The Retirement Elasticity: Theory and Implications

Published: 2002
Project ID: UM02-10


The effect of Social Security rules on the age people choose to retire can be critical in evaluating proposed changes to those rules. This research derives a theory of retirement that views retirement as a special type of labor supply decision. This decision is driven by wealth and substitution effects on labor supply, interacting with a fixed cost of working that makes low hours of work unattractive. The theory is tractable analytically, and therefore well-suited for analyzing proposals that affect Social Security. This research examines how retirement age varies with generosity of Social Security benefits. A ten-percent reduction in the value of benefits would lead individuals to postpone retirement by between one-tenth and one-half a year. Individuals who are relatively buffered from the change—because they are wealthier or because they are younger and therefore can more easily increase saving to offset the cut in benefits—will have smaller changes in their retirement ages.