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Abstract

Cognitive Ability, Expectations, and Beliefs about the Future: Psychological Influences on Retirement Decisions
by Andrew Parker, Leandro Carvalho and Susann Rohwedder
WP 2013-298
    Recent advances in behavioral decision research, behavioral economics, and life-span development psychology provide leverage for expanding our understanding of the decision to retire earlier versus later. This report examines how cognitive abilities, perceptions about the future, and other psychological characteristics affect retirement decisions. We use existing and new data collected through the RAND-USC American Life Panel, including detailed assessments of fluid and crystallized intelligence, financial literacy, expectations for the future, future time perspective, and maximizing versus satisficing decision styles.
    We find those with high levels of cognitive ability are more likely to retire later, as are those with greater longevity expectations. We also find those with lower cognitive ability have less coherent expectations of retirement—suggesting a need for planning assistance. We also find expectation of lower Social Security benefits is associated with plans to retire later—contrary to our hypothesis that such expectation might spur early retirement in an effort to lock in benefits. Finally, we find that tendencies to maximize (versus satisfice) had mixed effects on retirement decision making, with different aspects of maximizing tendencies showing different relationships with retirement decision making.
    Future work should expand these data in a targeted direction. Recent research notes that decision-making competence can be improved with training, and to the extent this trainability extends to older adults, decision skills may be a useful target for intervention. Stronger longitudinal design and analysis can also help demonstrate possible endogeneities between retirement and psychological variables.
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