The Impact of Income Distribution on the Length of Retirement
Publication Date: October 2010
Publisher(s): Center for Economic and Policy Research
Author(s): Dean Baker
Keywords: Social Security; retirement; inequality; life expectancy
Coverage: United States
Social Security has made it possible for the vast majority of workers to enjoy a period of retirement in at least modest comfort without relying on their children for support. The average length of retirement has increased consistently since the program was started in 1937. However, the increase in the normal retirement age from 65 to 67 that is being phased in over the years 2003 to 2022 largely offsets the increase in life expectancy. As a result, workers who work long enough to collect their full benefits will see little gain in the expected length of their retirement over this period.
These gains have gone overwhelmingly to workers in the top half of the income distribution. Consequently, the increase in retirement age will offset the gains in retirement lengths for the bottom half — even if there is no further inequality in improvements in life expectancy. If such inequality in improvements persist, then the bottom half of workers born in 1973 will have retirements no longer than those born in 1937.