Winter 2020 newsletter: Director’s corner

John Laitner

The Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 80, No. 1 (February 2020), was devoted to review articles on activities over the fiscal years 2008 to 2017 of the three retirement and two disability research centers sponsored by the Social Security Administration: The Michigan Retirement Research Center, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the Retirement Research Center at the NBER, the Mathematica Center for Studying Disability Policy, and the Disability Research Center at NBER. The Deputy Commissioner, Mark Warshawsky, and Lynn Fisher and John Jankowski of Social Security, provided introductions for the special Bulletin issue.

The Michigan Retirement Research Center (now the Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center) has been active in theoretical research, as with examining variants of the life-cycle model of household behavior, and empirical studies, in particular research using the Health and Retirement Study’s (HRS) panel data, which is collected at the University of Michigan. Our review article highlights three research themes: preparation for and well-being during retirement; decisions of when to retire; and, more generally, labor force participation rates at older ages.

Our research on retirement preparation features different aspects of the HRS data. The HRS is very well suited for studying the transition from defined-benefit to defined-contribution pensions currently underway in the private sector. Similarly, work using HRS consumption data enables us to gauge retirees’ living standards. The American Life Panel, an internet survey patterned on the HRS, is helpful for studying topics such as the impact of Social Security statement mailings.

In terms of labor force participation, our research has examined the role of health as a retirement determinant, using the extensive health covariates in the HRS, as well as novel researcher-initiated surveys. We have also studied the effect of state antidiscrimination laws on demand for older workers and, combining data from various sources, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET, the effect of different occupations’ physical requirements on retirement ages and the ability to continue working at older ages. We also have studied the role of health insurance, including the advent of the Affordable Care Act, using both structural and reduced-form approaches.

These are exciting times for research, with households facing new challenges — yet new opportunities as well. The growth in data resources has been remarkable. The Retirement Research Consortium has attracted to the retirement research field a number of scholars who would not otherwise have entered, and the MRDRC has been delighted to have had the chance to play a role.