Academic journal article NBER Reporter

Program Report: The Economics of Aging

Academic journal article NBER Reporter

Program Report: The Economics of Aging

Article excerpt

The central goal of the NBER's Program on the Economics of Aging is to develop a better understanding of the issues that are of particular importance to individuals as they age and to a society that is composed increasingly of older people. Over the past several years, we have focused on three areas: 1) the financial well-being of the elderly, with special emphasis on saving for retirement; 2) the labor force participation of older Americans, with substantial analysis of the role of employer-provided pension plans and Social Security provisions in encouraging early retirement; and 3) the role of housing, both as a potential source of financial support after retirement and in the determination of living arrangements as people age. More recently, we have sought to understand the reasons for the rapid growth in the cost of medical care, as well as the benefits of that care. (The economics of aging program and the health care program have been coordinated closely under the "Aging and Health Care Programs" that I oversee. Details of work in the health care program were reported by Alan M. Garber in the Winter 1995/6 issue of the Reporter.)

The NBER's Program on the Economics of Aging began in 1986. Since that time, it has included a large number of research projects, many of them integrated as part of coordinated investigations. Indeed, the program has developed primarily around these large coordinated research projects that are structured to address simultaneously several interrelated issues in the economics of aging. Central infrastructure for the program now is provided through a National Institute on Aging (NIA) "Center for Aging and Health Research" at the NBER. The Center has been instrumental in maintaining and expanding data files that support a broad array of ongoing research projects. There has been a particular focus on acquiring health care data that are used to support health care research within our program.

The Center also promotes research abroad on the economics of aging and facilitates coordinated international projects. One ongoing project on international social security, coordinated by Jonathan Gruber and me, evaluates the effects of government-directed social security programs around the world on the labor force participation of older workers. The Center supports an emerging project, coordinated by David E. Bloom, on the implications of the government retirement program in South Africa. Further, we have an ongoing joint project with the Japan Center for Economic Research, which has focused on issues that are of common concern in Japan and the United States. Individual projects under this program have directed attention to saving and labor force issues in Canada, Germany, Taiwan, and several other countries.

Much effort also has been directed to attracting young researchers to the economics of aging. To this end, our NIA Fellowship Program each year provides fellowships to two or three graduate students who are engaging in research on the economics of aging. In addition, it provides two or three postdoctoral fellowships each year to young professors, enabling them to spend a year at the NBER to do research on issues in the economics of aging and health care. The postdoctoral fellows in the past two years were: Dora L. Costa, MIT; Hilary W. Hoynes, University of California, Berkeley; Brigitte C. Madrian, University of Chicago; Kathleen M. McGarry, University of California, Los Angeles; David O. Meltzer, University of Chicago; and Douglas O. Staiger, Harvard. The effort to attract young researchers to our program also is reflected in four recent NIH First Independent Research Support and Transition (FIRST) awards granted to young members of the economics of aging research group: David M. Cutler, Mark B. McClellan, Gruber, and Madrian.

Much of our recent research on the health care of the aged is based on unique and very extensive Medicare claims files, and on employer-provided medical insurance claims fries that have been amassed under the infrastructure of the aging program, including the Center for Aging and Health Research. …

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