Three Essays on the Labor Supply, Savings and Investment Behavior of Older Workers

TitleThree Essays on the Labor Supply, Savings and Investment Behavior of Older Workers
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsClift, JW
AdvisorZissimopoulos, JM
UniversityThe Pardee RAND Graduate School
CitySanta Monica, CA
Accession Number1238001335
KeywordsEmployment and Labor Force, Healthcare, Methodology, Net Worth and Assets, Pensions, Public Policy, Retirement Planning and Satisfaction, Social Security

In this dissertation, I provide three distinct analyses addressing labor supply, saving and investment behavior of (older) workers, in the context of the incentives and constraints they face due to employer and government policies. In the first paper, I examine labor supply flexibility and its effect on the labor supply decisions of older workers. Previous literature suggests that people would like to reduce hours of work gradually over time as they get older, but do not have the flexibility to do so in their job, and consequently may retire early rather than continue to work high hours at older ages. If greater flexibility allows individuals to stay in the labor force longer, this could increase total labor supply, helping to increase both private resources for retirement and tax revenue to support public programs. Following a sample of older Americans for 16 years from 1992 to 2008, I find that there are noticeable differences in labor outcomes between those who had flexibility over their hours in 1992 and those who were not able to adjust their hours: those with flexibility worked fewer hours in their 50s, but tended to stay in the labor force longer; the major difference between groups occurred when individuals were in their early-mid 60s, at which time those who did not have flexibility in 1992 were much more likely to retire than those with flexibility. This work provides support for the theory that people prefer gradual retirement to more abrupt departures from the labor force, and indicates that flexibility around key retirement ages might have an impact on behavior. The overall effect on total labor supply of providing flexibility at all points of the lifecycle is ambiguous. In the second paper, we examine whether labor supply flexibility affects investment behavior. Individuals can receive higher returns (on average) on their investments if they are willing to bear more risk, which allows people to reach retirement with greater resources (on average) than if they had pursued low-risk strategies; but the fear of suffering big losses discourages people from taking risks. Theoretical work has argued that individuals with flexibility over their labor supply over the lifecycle can bear more risk in their portfolio of investments, as they can increase their labor to offset any losses they might suffer. Using a new survey we fielded in the American Life Panel (ALP), we examine how different measures of labor supply flexibility are related to measures of risk-taking in investments: individual participation in the stock market, and the percentage of an individual's financial wealth held in stocks. We find no evidence that flexibility over number of hours worked per week is related to investments in stocks. We find weak evidence that other flexibility measures--an individual's belief that they would be able to continue to work longer to make up for any negative wealth shocks, and the absence of factors that make it difficult to sustain a job into old age--may be related to greater risk-taking in investments. These results may indicate that flexibility at the extensive margin (ability to extend a career) may be more relevant to investment decision-making than flexibility at the intensive margin (ability to adjust hours). In the third paper, I describe the construction and characteristics of a unique dataset with which I lay the foundations for understanding pension system incentives and how they influence work and savings behavior over the lifecycle. Public pension systems across the developed world are in need of reform, but it is important to understand how the incentives in these systems affect behavior if we are to predict the consequences of different possible reforms. Previous literature has argued that public pensions displace private savings, but with elasticity of less than 1; this suggests that possible reductions in pension benefits through reforms would be partially (but not fully) offset by increases in private saving. Using new retrospective earnings history data for five European countries, in conjunction with linked survey data describing household wealth, I construct a dataset that captures the heterogeneous pension system incentives faced, and labor supply decisions made, at each point in the lifecycle for a large group of European men. My exploratory analysis of this dataset is consistent with the hypotheses that more generous income replacement by pension plans leads to lower private wealth accumulation, and greater reward within the pension system for continued work leads to later retirement. However, these statistical associations admit of plausible alternative explanations; the work documented in this paper cannot provide definitive answers on the incentive effects of pension systems, but provides the groundwork for significant extensions of research in this field, and eventually for detailed policy simulation of pension reform. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

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Public policy

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Citation Key6263