College Debt Can Limit 401(k) Saving

college loans chartThe share of students borrowing money to pay for college increases year after year, and they’re borrowing more every year.  Total student debt, adjusted for inflation, has tripled in just over a decade.

The loan payments, which can be a few hundred dollars a month, take a big bite out of young adults’ still-low levels of disposable income. The debt makes them more prone to bankruptcy and lower homeownership rates.

A key question is whether this pressing financial obligation might affect their preparation for a retirement that is several decades away.  Here’s what researchers Matt Rutledge, Geoff Sanzenbacher, and Francis Vitagliano of the Center for Retirement Research learned about student debt:

  • By age 30, the college graduates who are loan-free have saved two times more in their retirement plans than the graduates who are paying off debt. (Perhaps surprisingly, the presence of student loans do not seem to affect the amount saved by students who didn’t graduate, though they do have substantially less in their 401(k)s than the graduates.)
  • The amount owed by college graduates with loans does not matter. The mere existence of the debt is enough to constrain saving. …

Learn More

Maybe You Can Slow Cognitive Decline

After decades of study devoted to describing the negative effects of dementia, a new generation of researchers is pursuing a more encouraging line of inquiry: finding ways that seniors can slow the inevitable decline.

One vein of this research, still in its infancy, considers whether seniors could reduce the risk of dementia if they engage in volunteer work. Several studies focus on volunteering, because most of the population with the greatest risk of dementia – people over age 65 – is no longer working.

There’s no suggestion that volunteering can prevent dementia. However, one new study, by Swedish and European researchers, found that Swedes between 65 and 69 who volunteer had a “significant decrease in cognitive complaints,” compared with the non-volunteers. The seniors answered a survey questionnaire at the beginning and end of the 5-year study that gauged whether they had experienced any changes in each of four complaints: “problems concentrating,” “difficulty making decisions,” “difficulty remembering,” and “difficulty thinking clearly.”

The study didn’t go so far as to claim that volunteering actually caused the improvements either. But it highlighted how volunteering might reduce the symptoms, possibly because it keeps older people more physically and mentally fit.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's headshot

Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Indeed, the cognitive benefits of exercise have been understood for so long that they’ve become a perennial topic in the mainstream media. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, has become the poster child for elderly exercisers, with a personal trainer overseeing her push-ups and turns on an elliptical machine in a CNN Films documentary, “RBG.”

The research confirms that she’s doing what she needs to do to stay sharp for her beloved job: aerobic exercise in particular protects seniors’ brain matter from deterioration; weight training and stretching exercises do not.

A research team’s 2014 review of 73 prior studies on volunteer work found multiple benefits: “volunteering in later life is associated with significant psychosocial, physical, cognitive, and functional benefits for healthy older adults.” The paper, which appeared in the Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association, defined psychosocial well-being as having greater life satisfaction, higher executive function, being happier and having a robust social network. …Learn More

Divorce Very Bad for Retirement Finances

divorce chartWhen a marriage ends in divorce, there are no fewer than seven ways that it could damage a person’s finances.

Divorce can rack up costly legal fees; force a house or stock sale in a down market; increase living expenses; increase tax rates; hamper the ability of the primary caregiver – mothers – to earn money; require fathers to pay alimony; and reduce each partner’s access to credit.

A new study looking at their impact on workers’ future finances concludes that divorce – the fate of four in 10 marriages – “substantially increases the likelihood” that their standard of living will decline after they retire. …Learn More

Portraits of older people

Boomers’ Employment Options Improving

It’s not difficult to find baby boomers out in the job market who will tell you that they have fewer employment options than they used to.

The turning point occurs around age 55. According to a recent study, only 4 percent of people in their early 50s who find a new job are moving into what the researchers label as “old-person jobs” – that is, jobs in occupations that disproportionately employ older workers. The share in these jobs increases sharply, to 13 percent, by the time they reach their late 50s and to 22 percent in their early 60s.

Given the more difficult job market, this cloud has a silver lining. Older workers are actually better off today than they were in the late 1990s and have experienced a “broadening of occupational opportunities,” concluded researchers Matt Rutledge, Steve Sass, and Jorge Ramos-Mercado of the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.

Specifically, the situation has improved for two of the three age groups they analyzed. The share of new hires who are in their early 50s and end up in old-person jobs has fallen by more than two-thirds since the late 1990s. For people in their early 60s, it has fallen by nearly one-fifth.

Various possible reasons for the improvement include an aging labor force – managers included. As managers age, they may become more amenable to hiring older workers.

The study also found that things have improved for both educational groups: those who have spent at least some time in college and those who never attended college. …Learn More

family

Mom-Dad Pay Gap Grows After First Child

Moms don’t need a research study to tell them that their earnings will never be high as dads’.

Nevertheless, a new study confirms this – and the pay gap may be larger than some suspect. In the two years surrounding the baby’s birth, mothers’ earnings fall by 12 percent, on average, as their careers stall or they take a hiatus from work to care for the child. Meanwhile, fathers’ careers clip along, with bonuses, pay raises, more hours, or better jobs bumping up their pay by 34 percent.

Mothers don’t get back to their pre-baby income levels until the child is 9 or 10 years old. The mom-dad wage gap will never be smaller than it was before the baby, because “the earnings of the male spouse do not undergo the initial shock” of childbirth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau researchers. They tracked wage changes starting in 1978, when baby boomer women were streaming into the labor force.

Their comparison of the husband-wife pay gap helps to overcome a big disadvantage of analyzing the popularized version of the gap: women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. This headline statistic applies to all men and all women.

It’s neater to compare spouses, because both of them experience the baby bump at the same time, allowing estimates of the changes in each one’s earnings during the same time period and life circumstances. Just as important, husbands and wives usually bring to a marriage similar levels of education, the major determinant of earnings throughout workers’ lives.

The big issue in this study, however, is that data limitations prevented the researchers from controlling for the hours each spouse works after the baby’s birth. There are several potential explanations for mothers’ smaller paychecks but reduced hours are a major reason.

Maternity leave can be the start of several years of part-time employment at lower pay or even a hiatus from work for childrearing. If new mothers do return to the labor force fairly quickly, prioritizing the child can mean a job with less responsibility and lower pay than they earned in the past.

The increasing pay gap illuminates the financial sacrifices that moms make. Here are other findings in the study: …Learn More

map of Washington DC

Meeting to Focus on Retirement Research

It’s not too late to sign up to attend the Retirement Research Consortium’s (RRC) 20th annual meeting in Washington on Thursday and Friday, August 2 and 3.

Its purpose is to provide RRC researchers from around the country an opportunity to present their working papers to colleagues, the press, policy experts, and financial professionals. The consortium’s studies are all funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The researchers will cover a variety of financial and policy issues facing workers and retirees. Topics will include the gains in longevity when retirement is delayed, widows’ poverty, and an analysis of low-income workers’ earnings and retirement prospects.

Another paper explores the decline in the share of total U.S. earnings that are being covered by Social Security as increases at the top of the income scale outpace increases in the payroll tax cap.  The links between money management and cognitive impairment among the elderly will be explored by one panel.

The members of the research consortium are the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which sponsors this blog; the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center; and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Please join us!Learn More

hospital

Despite Medicare, Medical Expenses Bite

Medicare pays for the bulk of the medical care for Americans over 65, but a lot of their income is still eaten up by medical expenses.

The list of expenses is long. The lion’s share goes toward various insurance premiums – for Medicare Part B coverage, Part D prescription drug coverage, and supplemental insurance, whether Medigap, a Medicare Advantage plan, or employer health insurance for retirees. The remaining costs, for copayments and deductibles, are also significant.

These out-of-pocket costs, when added together, averaged about $4,300 annually per person, finds a new study by researchers Melissa McInerney, Matthew Rutledge, and Sara Ellen King of the Center for Retirement Research.

Out-of-pocket costs consume a third of the amount that retirees receive from Social Security, which is the most significant source of retirement income for a wide swath of the nation’s seniors, including many people in the middle-class. Half of seniors get at least half of all their income from the federal program.

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program has given some relief to retirees. After it became effective in 2006, the share of seniors’ income consumed by out-of-pocket costs declined slightly and then declined again after a follow-up reform of Part D began to close a big gap in drug coverage – known as the donut hole – in 2010. …Learn More

12345...1020...