Household Retirement Savings: The Location of Savings between Spouses

62 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2017

See all articles by Katherine Grace Carman

Katherine Grace Carman

RAND Corporation

Angela Hung

RAND Corporation - Labor and Population

Date Written: January 18, 2017


Retirement planning is often a joint household decision-making process, and therefore the household is often the more appropriate unit of analysis. However, retirement savings in tax advantaged accounts are held in the name of one individual. While spouses have rights to these assets in the case of divorce and in most cases of death, the separation of accounts in name may cause couples to treat their accounts as separate, with each spouse making decisions separately.

In order to optimize retirement planning, couples should consider the entire household portfolio together, accounting for the characteristics of the retirement accounts, the age of the spouses, and income differences between spouses. With separate accounts, one spouse may not be aware of the contributions or assets accumulated in the other spouse’s accounts. This may lead to sub-optimal decision-making, as individuals in a couple may not fully optimize across all available retirement accounts.

Little is known about how households divide retirement contributions and assets between spouses. In this project, we investigate how households locate contributions across tax deferred savings accounts that are nominally held in one spouse’s name and how these decisions may impact accumulated assets. In particular we first document who within a couple nominally holds retirement assets. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study and Survey of Consumer Finances, we find that household retirement assets and contributions are more likely to be located in accounts held in the husband’s name or the primary earner’s name. In our regression analysis, we find that the location of contributions is largely driven by the distribution of earnings within couples.

Suggested Citation

Carman, Katherine Grace and Hung, Angela, Household Retirement Savings: The Location of Savings between Spouses (January 18, 2017). RAND Working Paper Series WR- 1166, Available at SSRN: or

Katherine Grace Carman (Contact Author)

RAND Corporation ( email )

1776 Main Street
P.O. Box 2138
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States

Angela Hung

RAND Corporation - Labor and Population ( email )

United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics