Weekend Reading: The Complex Economics of Growing Old

This article appears as part of Casey Weade's Weekend Reading for Retirees series. Every Friday, Casey highlights four hand-picked articles on trending retirement topics and delivers them straight to your email inbox. Get on the list here.
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Weekend Reading

According to a 1985 developed concept known as the “Life Cycle Hypothesis”, the financial decisions you make tend to smooth out over your lifetime. You borrow early, earn, save, insure yourself, then deplete that money as you move through retirement and into your remaining years of life.


Accumulating in the decumulation stage: Mariacristina De Nardi, a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota, analyzed this concept and begs the question: What if our ride to the finish line isn’t smooth? Complex risks including extended longevity and health issues can create a large financial burden on retirees, and as such, recent research from De Nardi shows that Americans are now saving well into their 80s and beyond.

Rising health care costs: While the “Life Cycle Hypothesis” states this is when retirees should be spending, expensive end-of-life care is causing more 70-plus individuals to be extra mindful of their money. As it stands, one in three American seniors will require some form of long-term care at one point or another in their lives. And according to De Nardi, Americans at age 70 face an average of $122,000 of remaining medical expenses, which can continue to climb based on life expectancy.

Risks for women: Additionally, there is the risk of widowhood. According to research, married women live an average of four years longer than married men, at which point the passing of one spouse can cause a wealth loss of roughly $160,000. Between medical costs, death-related costs and the transfer of wealth while one spouse is still living, this can cause issues for maintaining a solid income stream for widows.

Plan proactively: Lastly, the ability to enjoy your wealth can change in the face of declining health. If you’re no longer able to enjoy activities you once participated in due to mobility or other health-related issues, that can explain a decline in spending. Above all, you may find that you can live a more confident retirement, not to mention a more enjoyable retirement, by planning for fringe risks that can be insured against ahead of time.