Saving Regret: Self-assessed Life-cycle Saving Behavior in the U.S. and Singapore

Published: 2020


Based on the belief that many people have under-saved and that the reason for under-saving is procrastination, paternalistic nudging to foster saving is often advocated by policy researchers. However, there is little empirical evidence that on hindsight individuals would wish to have saved more than they did, which is an implication of under-saving due to procrastination. To fill this empirical gap, we fielded surveys in the RAND American Life Panel and in the Singapore Life Panel. We asked persons ages 60 to 74 whether, if they were given the chance to do it over again, they would have saved differently earlier in their lives. If they wished to have saved more, we say they have “saving regret.” We also fielded a psychometric battery designed to classify people according to their tendency to procrastinate. We found both in the United States and in the Singapore data that about half the population expressed saving regret with the proportion being higher in the U.S. The likelihood of expressing regret was uncorrelated with our measures of procrastination: That is, individuals who affirm statements that plainly indicate a tendency to put off difficult tasks are no more likely to express saving regret than individuals who do not have that tendency. We also asked respondents whether, over their lifetimes, they had experienced unexpected events or shocks that harmed their economic situation, such as unemployment. Substantially higher fractions of the U.S. sample experienced such shocks. That experience explained the greater frequency of saving regret in the U.S.

Key Findings

    • Saving regret, the hindsight desire to have saved more earlier in life, is more prevalent in the United States than in Singapore.
    • We find little evidence that procrastination leads to saving regret
    • Shocks, including job loss and family events such as marital disruption, lead to saving regret.
    • A better understanding of shocks and expectations of them may help in designing policies to improve saving outcomes.


Börsch-Supan, Axel, Michael D. Hurd, and Susann Rohwedder. 2020. “Saving Regret: Self-assessed Life-cycle Saving Behavior in the U.S. and Singapore.” Ann Arbor, MI. University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center (MRDRC) Working Paper; MRDRC WP 2020-413.