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Abstract

Mismeasurement of Pensions Before and After Retirement: The Mystery of the Disappearing Pensions with Implications for the Importance of Social Security as a Source of Retirement Support
by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier and Nahid Tabatabai
WP 2012-268

A review of the literature suggests that when pension values are measured by the wealth equivalent of promised DB pension benefits and DC balances for those approaching retirement, pensions account for more support in retirement than is suggested when their contribution is measured by incomes received directly from pension plans by those who have already retired. Estimates from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) for respondents in their early fifties suggest that pension wealth is about 82 percent as valuable as Social Security wealth. In data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), for members of the same cohort, measured when they are 65 to 69, pension incomes are about 58 percent as valuable as incomes from Social Security. Our empirical analysis uses data from the HRS to examine the reasons for these differences in the contributions of pensions as measured in income and wealth data. Key factors accounting for these difference include: a difference in methodology between surveys affecting what is included in pension income; some pension wealth "disappears" at retirement because respondents change their pension into other forms that are not counted as pension income; and the form of annuitization may influence the measure of pension income. A series of caveats notwithstanding, the bottom line is that CPS data on pension incomes received in retirement understates the full contribution pensions make to supporting retirees.

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