Johan Bonekamp on his doctoral thesis: to save or to spend, that is the question

Johan Bonekamp recently obtained his PhD at Tilburg University. He wrote five essays, all dealing with personal finance before and after retirement. An interview.

Name: Dr. Johan Bonekamp


PhD defense: 23 Juni 2021 at the Tilburg School of Economics and Management, Tilburg University

Doctoral thesis: Studies on labour supply, spending and saving before and after retirement

What was the starting point for your research?
“Standard economic theory predicts that individuals accumulate wealth during their working lives and decumulate it once they retire. But in practice, both in the Netherlands and in Australia, the United States and other countries, retirees often hold on to their savings. The economic literature provides various explanations for this. For instance, that pensioners do not spend their savings because of unexpected health care expenses or to leave a bequest. However, many questions remain unanswered: what other, possibly more abstract, reasons do individuals have to hold on to their wealth? What is the influence of the pension system and the health care system of the country the individual lives in? But also towards the future: do soon-to-be-retired individuals also expect to hold on to their savings? And if so, why?”

What are your first three essays about?
“In the first three essays, we use vignettes. We ask soon-to-be-retired residents of the Netherlands and Australia (aged 50-64) to advise a hypothetical household that has just retired on how much they should spend during retirement. We then ask why. We repeat this several times, where we change the (stylized) pension system of the hypothetical household. In the second essay, we investigate whether we can influence the advised spending pattern without explicitly asking or requiring the respondents to do so. In the third essay, we examine whether the advised spending pattern is different when the hypothetical household has a high income for the first few years after retirement and a lower benefit in the years that follow compared to a lifetime constant pension benefit. We also explore in this essay whether individuals derive as much utility from one euro in a savings account as from a lifetime benefit worth one euro.”

And the fourth and fifth essays?
“In the fourth and fifth essays, we use administrative data. In the fourth essay, we investigate whether 70 to 79 year olds spend or save more after being hospitalized. We consider different conditions that affect mortality and disability to different extents. In addition, we focus on different groups: individuals with and without children, individuals with and without a partner, individuals with a substantial amount of savings and individuals with little savings. In the final essay, I no longer consider retirees or soon-to-be-retired individuals, but focus on individuals in the rush hour of their lives. For this group, we look at the causal effect of a gift on gross household income, mortgage debt and the value of their home.”

Will you continue with the research?
“Soon I will start working at the Expertise Centre of the AFM in the consumer behaviour team.”

What benefit did you get from Netspar?
“Before starting as a PhD candidate in 2019, I worked as a researcher at Netspar since 2016. During my time at Netspar, I collaborated with researchers from Netspar’s Australian equivalent: CEPAR. The first two studies of my thesis are the result of this collaboration. Furthermore, I am grateful to Netspar for the opportunity to meet people, discuss research and present own work at, for example, the Pension Day and International Pension Workshop.”

Want to know more?
Doctoral thesis

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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