First Prize, Co-winner
James Poterba and Jonathan Gruber
This thesis investigates the influence of retiree health and pension policies on the retirement decisions of public sector employees. Chapter one documents the central role of eligibility for subsidized retiree health insurance. Using administrative records obtained from the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System, the analysis finds that the well-documented spike in the separation rate at the normal retirement age almost completely disappears in the population of workers not yet eligible for subsidized retiree health insurance. A second set of results exploits quasi-experimental variation in plan design to show that increasing the service requirement for subsidized retiree health insurance stretches the distribution of separations: early separations occur earlier and late separations occur later. Chapter two presents a structural analysis of the retirement decision for the same employees. Chapter three turns to the defined benefit pension plans common in the public sector and investigates the incentive effects and distributional consequences of four stylized plan designs. It derives simple formulas for the accrual rate of pension wealth and the distribution of benefits under each of the plans and uses these formulas to gain insight into the incentives and risks they create.