September 12, 2013
Swedish Retirees Spend More Freely
Americans are known for being reluctant to spend their life savings after they retire. The burning question has always been why.
New research comparing tight-fisted Americans with more free-spending Swedes found that U.S. retirees tend to hold on to their savings, because they face more risk of having to pay high out-of-pocket costs in the future for their medical and long-term care.
U.S. households, by the time they’re in their late 80s, have tapped only about one-third of the net worth they held in their late 60s, according to the study. Swedish households in their late 80s have spent more than three-fourths.
In preliminary findings presented at an August meeting of the Retirement Research Consortium in Washington, researcher Irina Telyukova said her study with Makoto Nakajima found that nearly 70 percent of the difference in the way Swedish and U.S. retirees spend down their financial assets can be explained by differences in their potential future medical costs.
Sweden’s healthcare system reduces the uncertainties for retirees in two ways. Sweden has national health care for everyone. Swedish municipalities are responsible for providing long-term care to the elderly in their communities, limiting a cost that can be enormous for U.S. retirees who need these services.
As a result, older Swedish households pay, on average, one-tenth of what older U.S. households pay for medical and long-term care, said Telyukova.
Note that the findings apply to the rate at which retirees spend down their financial assets. When it comes to housing, retirees in both countries are reluctant to “spend” this asset – by downsizing or tapping home equity – indicating this decision may be influenced by non-medical considerations, such as whether to leave something to their offspring.
But the implication of this study’s main finding makes sense: U.S. retirees have more to worry about, so they cling to their financial assets as a precaution.
Full disclosure: The research cited in this post was funded by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through the Retirement Research Consortium, which also funds this blog. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the blog’s author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government.