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Main photo Promoting research on retirement and Social Security policy

Volume 14, Issue 3 - October 2014

Director's corner

John Laitner

The 2014 Retirement Research Consortium annual meeting at the National Press Club featured 21 talks, each summarizing an individual research project, and each followed by a discussant, together with two lunchtime speakers, Frederick Miller, the founder of a private-sector financial advisory firm, and Annika Sunden, former deputy director-general of the Swedish Pensions Agency. The three RRC Research Centers—the Michigan Retirement Research Center, the Boston College Center, and the National Bureau of Economic Research Center—rotate in handling the organization of the meeting in cooperation with SSA; this year was the Boston Center’s turn.

Katherine Thornton, Deputy Chief of Staff SSA, gave the introductory remarks to this year’s meeting. She noted the RRC’s record of producing high quality, policy-relevant research. She also emphasized the importance of inclusiveness—i.e., of interdisciplinary research, of an international perspective on what is possible and what has been attempted, and of diversity of viewpoints in initiating and evaluating research projects.

Frederick Miller’s talk provided the perspective of a private-sector, financial advisor. Economists’ life-cycle model of household behavior has been a foundation of MRRC research throughout the Michigan Center’s lifespan. Interestingly, Frederick Miller’s talk emphasized the role of the same model in his advisory business. Key elements of the model are the desirability of spreading a household’s lifetime resources evenly over periods of both work and retirement, the need to take into account changes in family composition (as when children mature and leave home), and the need to make careful portfolio choices. The research community is long familiar with analysis of these factors. The talk showed the life-cycle framework’s usefulness as a structure for deriving practical advice for clients.

Annika Sunden’s talk illustrated the commonality of trends throughout the OECD. All public budgets are strained by lengthening life spans and lower birthrates. Many countries are seriously thinking about encouraging later retirement, and are worried about the balance of private-pension resources and public programs. Different countries are trying different policies, creating chances to learn from the ideas and experiences of others.