The Costs and Benefits of Retirement Policies at U.S. Audit Firms
49 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2020 Last revised: 8 Jan 2021
Date Written: December 1, 2020
The mandatory retirement age within U.S. Big 4 audit firms ranges from 55 to 62, which has attracted controversy and legal scrutiny. The potential costs of an earlier retirement age include the loss of established networks, experience, and expertise. However, studies in non-U.S. jurisdictions conclude that partners nearing retirement disengage from their work, which manifests in lower audit quality. Using intensive hand-collected data on the age of 3,148 U.S. audit partners, we provide the first evidence of the costs and benefits of mandatory retirement policies at U.S. audit firms. We find that audit quality does not vary, but that fees are significantly higher for U.S. partners approaching retirement. These findings suggest that U.S. mandatory retirement policies are forcing out experienced revenue earners that are producing audit quality equivalent to younger partners. Additional analysis reveal that partner retirements are mechanisms to promote and grow the client portfolios of younger and female audit partners, and therefore increase partner diversity. Our additional analysis of non-U.S. audit partners leading audits of U.S. listed companies shows that partners approaching retirement are associated with lower audit quality across certain measures. This suggests that the audit quality of older U.S. partners is superior to their non-U.S. counterparts.
Keywords: PCAOB, Form AP, audit partner, partner characteristics, age, mandatory retirement
JEL Classification: M42, G18, G28, J16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation