EBRI Issue Brief

Employee Benefits, Retirement Patterns, and Implications for Increased Work Life

Apr 1, 1997 24  pages


  • This Issue Brief examines why policymakers are concerned about the trend toward early retirement and how it relates to Social Security, Medicare, and employee health and retirement benefits. It reviews the rationale for the effects of economic incentives on early retirement decisions and includes a summary of empirical literature on the retirement process. It presents data on how employee benefits influence workers' expected retirement patterns. Finally, it examines the implications of public policies to reverse early-retirement trends and raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare.
  • An Employee Benefit Research Institute/Gallup survey indicates that there is a direct link between a worker's decision to retire early and the availability of retiree health benefits. In 1993, 61 percent of workers reported that they would not retire before becoming eligible for Medicare if their employer did not provide retiree health benefits.
  • Participation in a pension plan can be an important determinant of retirement. Twenty-one percent of pension plan participants planned to stop working before age 65, compared with 12 percent among nonparticipants.
  • Workers whose primary pension plan was a defined benefit plan were more likely to expect to stop working before age 65 (23 percent) than workers whose primary plan was a defined contribution plan (18 percent).
  • Expected income replacement rates affect retirement patterns, indicating that as the expected replacement rate increases, the probability of expecting to stop working before age 65 increases. Twenty-two percent of workers with an expected income replacement rate below 60 percent expected to stop working before age 65, compared with 29 percent for those in the 60-69 percent replacement range, and 30 percent for those in the 70-79 percent replacement range.
  • Workers expecting to receive retiree health insurance are more likely to expect to stop working before age 65 than workers who do not expect to have retiree health insurance. Twenty-one percent of workers with retiree health insurance expected to stop working before age 65, compared with 12 percent of workers not expecting to receive retiree health insurance.
  • The Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program depends on obtaining sufficient revenue from active workers' payroll taxes to fund the benefits received by retired beneficiaries. Funding the program in the past was in large part effortless because of the relatively large number of workers per retiree. Today, funding the program is a greater challenge because the ratio of workers to retirees has fallen. Policymakers have been able to agree that reform of the program is necessary for its survival; however, the debate over options to reform the program is just beginning, and it is likely to be a long time before a consensus emerges.