The Empirical Frame of the Decision to Annuitize
36 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2016
Date Written: May 22, 2016
Microeconomic theory suggests that annuities are favorable because they ensure a steady path of consumption no matter how long the annuitant will live. As a promising attempt to explain why actual annuitization rates are lower than expected, it has recently been argued that consumers do not use such a consumption frame when they decide on annuitizing their wealth. Instead, they might rather apply an investment frame: They evaluate the annuity as a standalone financial product, focusing mainly on its risk and return characteristics and thereby ignoring its insurance value. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to empirically test which frame is actually used by consumers. More precisely, we argue that uncertainty about one’s subjective prospects of survival should have opposing effects on the decision to annuitize depending on the frame. In a consumption frame, an annuity provides a hedge against the financial risks of an uncertain lifetime whereas in an investment frame uncertainty about one’s future survival translates directly into financial risk. Using field data from the Health and Retirement Study, we show that respondents who have more precise beliefs about their chances of survival tend to annuitize larger parts of their wealth. We therefore find empirical support for the investment frame.
Keywords: Framing, Uncertainty, Annuity Puzzle, Modal Choice
JEL Classification: D12, D14, D81, G11, H55, J14
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