Olivia S. Mitchell
Dr. Olivia S. Mitchell is the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Professor, as well as Professor of Insurance/Risk Management and Business Economics/Policy; Executive Director of the Pension Research Council; and Director of the Boettner Center on Pensions and Retirement Research; all at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Concurrently Dr. Mitchell serves as a Research Associate at the NBER; Independent Director on the Wells Fargo Advantage Fund Trusts Board; Co-Investigator for the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan; Member of the Executive Board for the Michigan Retirement Research Center; and Senior Scholar of the Centre for Silver Security at the Sim Ki Boon Institute of Singapore Management University. She also advises the Centre for Pensions and Superannuation UNSW and serves on the Scientific Board for Netspar in the Netherlands; she is also Faculty Affiliate of the Wharton Public Policy Initiative. She received the MA and PhD degrees in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the BA in Economics from Harvard University. She currently is a Senior Editor of the Journal of Pension Economics and Finance.
Professor Mitchell’s professional interests focus on public and private pensions, insurance and risk management, financial literacy, and public finance. Her recent research is exploring how systematic longevity risk and financial crises can shape household portfolios and work patterns over the life cycle, the economics and finance of defined contribution pensions, financial literacy and wealth accumulation, and claiming behavior for Social Security benefits. Her research has been published in leading academic journal including theAmerican Economic Review, the Journal of Public Economics, and the Review of Finance, and it has been featured in outlets such as The Economist, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. She has written or edited more than 25 books and 180 published articles.
Dr. Mitchell received the Fidelity Pyramid Prize for research improving lifelong financial well-being; the Carolyn Shaw Bell Award of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession; and the Roger F. Murray First Prize from the Institute for Quantitative Research in Finance. She was also honored with the Premio Internazionale Dell’Istituto Nazionale Delle Assicurazioni (INA) ex aqueo from the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome. Her study of Social Security reform won the Paul Samuelson Award for “Outstanding Writing on Lifelong Financial Security” from TIAA-CREF. In 2011, Investment Advisor Magazine named her one of the “25 Most Influential People” and “50 Top Women in Wealth;” in 2010 she received the Retirement Income Industry Association’s Award for Achievement in Applied Retirement Research; and in 2010 Wealth Management Magazine named her one of the “50 Top Women in Wealth.”
Previously Professor Mitchell chaired Wharton’s Department of Insurance and Risk Management, and she also taught for sixteen years at Cornell University. She served as a Commissioner on the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security; a Member of the US Department of Labor’s ERISA Advisory Council; and on the Board of Directors of Alexander and Alexander Services, Inc., the Board of the American Economic Association, the Advisory Board for the Central Provident Fund of Singapore, the National Academy of Social Insurance Board, the Board of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, and the GAO Advisory Board. She also co-chaired the Technical Panel on Trends in Retirement Income and Saving for the Social Security Advisory Council.
Professor Mitchell has visited and taught at numerous institutions including Harvard University, the NBER, Cornell University, the Goethe University of Frankfurt, the Singapore Management University, and the University of New South Wales. Professor Mitchell has consulted with many public and private groups including the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund, the Investment Company Institute, the President’s Economic Forum, the World Bank, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, the White House Conference on Social Security, the Q Group, and the Association of Flight Attendants. She has also been invited to testify for numerous committees of the US Congress, the UK Parliament, the Australian Parliament, the US Department of Labor, and the Brazilian Senate. She speaks Spanish and Portuguese, having lived and worked in Latin America, Europe, and Australasia.
PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1978; MA, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1976; BA, Harvard University,1974
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Professor; Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy; Professor of Insurance and Risk Management; Executive Director, Pension Research Council
Executive Director, Pension Research Council
The Wharton School
Business Economics and Public Policy
In the News
In an op-ed piece featured on the Wall Street Journal, Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell discusses the unique financial vulnerability of elderly individuals and solutions for this unrecognized problem. Her ethnographic research discovered that “financial fraud experienced by the over-50 population is a large and important problem, and more prevalent than commonly believed.” She goes on to outline three potential solutions; one from the private sector, one from technological innovation, and one from policy makers.
Research by Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell is cited in an Wall Street Journal article on the meaning and function of “financial literacy.” Her work questioned if Americans understood the basic underpinnings of personal finance. Respondents were deemed literate if they could successfully answer simple questions related to compound interest, inflation and asset diversification. Years of careful research showed that many Americans can’t.
Research by Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Michell has inspired a new startup that is building a way for consumers to more easily buy what has notoriously been a hard sell: annuity contracts, both those that create an immediate income stream and others that produce income years down the road.
Congress has decreed that people should have more time to pay back their 401(k) loans if they lose or leave their jobs. That extension isn’t enough to make 401(k) loans safe, though. You’re still risking your retirement security every time you take money out of your plan.
About 40% of 401(k) savers borrow from their plans in a given five-year period, and 90% of the loans are paid back, according to Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell.
She is concerned that the longer grace period could lure more people into a false sense of security, leading to more loans - and more defaults. Making loans more attractive “is not the approach you want if your primary goal is retirement security,” Mitchell says.
A recent study coauthored by Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, finds that growing debt obligations of older households leave them vulnerable to rising rates - and that an increasing share of their incomes will need to go to servicing debt.
Americans are more likely than ever before to enter retirement carrying debt, which leaves them vulnerable to rising interest rates. A recent study coauthored by Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, finds that growing debt obligations of older households leave them vulnerable to rising rates - and that an increasing share of their incomes will need to go to servicing debt.
Private sector pension coverage started during World War II and reached its peak in the 1980s. But by 2013, just 13 percent of non-union private sector workers were covered by a defined benefit pension.
Faculty Affiliate and executive director of the Pension Research Council at the Wharton School of The University Of Pennsylvania, said that these types of pensions have had funding issues since their inception.
Older women in the U.S. are eager to work. And employers, facing a tight labor market and a dwindling supply of workers as older baby boomers retire, need these women. Yet women over 50 find the doors of American corporations are often closed to them, according to academic studies, employment experts and interviews with women struggling to get hiring managers to take them seriously.
For employers, the scarcity of workers shows no signs of abating. That will force them to look for talent in populations they might otherwise have ignored, says Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. If they don’t explore those neglected pools, “they won’t find the trained, educated, mature workforce they need,” she says.
Philadelphia’s city pension plan needs reform: even before the new contracts, actuaries predicted two years ago that if the city obtained its assumed rate of return — 7.85 percent at the time — it would not reach its pension funding goal until 2031.
“The consensus estimate is that stock and bond markets are unlikely to earn the assumed 7.7 percent return, so the funding will be much below what is projected,” said Olivia S. Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council at the University of Pennsylvania.
Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell comments on the juxtaposition of General Electric’s $45 billion in stock buybacks in recent years to their growing pension liabilities.
“It’s a clear tension. Buybacks clearly use assets available not to fund the pension promise but to make shareholders happy.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation that would restructure future public employee’s pension plans to be solvent. The plan does not fix the current shortfall, however, as it only affects future employees.
Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell commented, “The fact that they have to reform for all future hires means that, eventually, and very eventually, there will be some relief. However, the current defined benefit plan is underfunded and is not fixed by that reform.”
What differentiates the financial success stories from the others turns out to be exposure–in school or the workplace–to financial education, says WSJ Wealth Expert Olivia Mitchell of the Wharton School.
“As the U.S. economy moves into a higher-interest rate environment, this will deeply challenge the rising number of Americans who hold more debt and are more financially fragile than ever before. Enhancing financial knowledge across the board can reduce wealth inequality and relieve much financial stress in this do-it-yourself world.”
Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell comments on how American companies are trying to stop employees from raiding their 401(k)s, in an attempt to ensure that older workers can afford to retire and make room for younger, less-expensive hires.
Research from Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell explores the option of a deferred annuity instead of typical 401K payouts for retirees.
It is not hyperbole to blame Philadelphia’s underfunded pensions for the city’s high taxes, dirty sidewalks, potholed-filled streets, and struggling schools. Every dollar the city has to contribute to fill the pension gap is a dollar that could have gone towards fixing one of those pressing problems.
Last year Philadelphia’s pension fund floundered in the markets, taking a $149 million loss in the fiscal year that ended June 30th, 2016. That marked a 3.17 percent decline that followed the previous fiscal year’s anemic 0.29 percent return.
“Most public pension managers hope they will make a higher return by investing in riskier assets,” said Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell. “But what they are not acknowledging up front is that risky assets are risky, and you will lose 20 percent sometime.”
With stocks, and even corporate bonds, “some of the time you flop, and sometimes you win big,” she said. “Pensions should go into much safer assets.”
Pensions are, in a sense, a necessary by-product of a rich economy. But what will it take to sell the idea to the rural poor? Especially when their income (never particularly substantial) is seasonal, increasing at harvest time and with demand in the cities for construction-related labor. What are the inducements that can convince them to invest for a future forced upon them by the changing social structure?
Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell set out to answer these questions in a research paper titled, “Assessing the Demand for Micropensions among India’s Poor.”
Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell writes for Forbes on annuities in retirement plans. According to her research, including well-designed longevity annuities as defaults in 401k plans and IRAs would make most workers better off. Putting the pensions back into retirement plans is a sensible way to manage retirement risk.
According to a new controversial proposal, raising the Social Security retirement age to 76 will be “fairer” and incentivize more labor force participation, as well as extend Social Security coverage.
Research by Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell, however, claims the opposite: she want to reward people who delay claiming their Social Security benefits and keep working, without changing the retirement age. The lump sum would encourage workers to voluntarily stay on the job, on average by about 1 1/2 to 2 years longer, she calculates.
In an article co-written by Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell, Philadelphia is spotlighted as one of three major cities that that is designing solutions to help our workforce save more and retire more comfortably in a new local approach.
As more and more Americans work longer and longer into their careers, the retirement years are shrinking, too. According to Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell, this trend toward working longer is actually a return to the realities of the early 1900s before the advent of Social Security and what we now consider the “old-fashioned” pension plans that pay monthly benefits for life. Back then, people worked for as long as they were physically able. “Sitting around and doing nothing was an alien concept,” says Mitchell.
Nearly 7 million workers for California companies will be automatically enrolled in a new state-run retirement program under a bill signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Auto-enrollment has become popular in private sector pensions because it allows an employee to start saving immediately without much of a delay, said Faculty Affiliate Olivia Mitchell.
“They may be auto-enrolled but if they’re living hand-to-mouth … then maybe it turns out to be much less successful than it has been for higher-wage workers,” Mitchell said.
According to research from Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell, Baby Boomer women–now in their 50s and 60s–are doing worse financially than older women in the 1990s. One reason they’re in worse shape is that older women today hold more debt than their peers did in the past.
“Our study also shows that less financially literate women are unlikely to plan for retirement, rendering them financially fragile. One reaction to this larger debt has been that many boomer women are remaining employed to pay their bills,” she comments.
A study published via the National Bureau of Economic Analysis, co-authored by Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell, compares elderly Americans’ willingness to delay financial gratification with their personal characteristics and lifetime outcomes.
More than half of the 70+ year olds surveyed specified more than $160 to wait a year, while many suggested $200. Overall, their average discount rate was 54%, twice as high as the level for younger and middle-aged people.
“If you only have six months left to live, then it doesn’t make much sense to think about long term,” said Mitchell.
As questions rise about Social Security’s solvency, Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell and her team have found a possible solution: Add a lump-sum cash payment as an optional benefit for delaying Social Security filing.
Not only would this encourage more people would work longer, which would improve their retirement security, but In addition, their earnings would keep generating payroll taxes, thereby bolstering Social Security’s troubled finances. “I think the delayed claiming option is really something we need to talk about,” Mitchell says.
Read more in her Issue Brief: http://bit.ly/IssueBriefV3N9
As Social Security faces financial struggles, Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell discusses a new idea to help solve the deficit. She argues that lump-sum payouts serve as an incentive to put off collecting Social Security and increase solvency.
The global financial meltdown profoundly shook the foundations of retirement security, in the US and around the world. Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell comments on how a better understanding of risk is essential to better retirement planning and how how retirement planning and long-term financial security have changed following the crisis.
California is debating a new fix to a tricky problem: workers whose jobs don’t offer a pension, 401(k) or other retirement savings plans. If it becomes law, Monday’s long-awaited proposal from a California board would set up a state-administered plan, and require most businesses to offer it or some other type of savings plan for their employees.
“Washington, Illinois, New York City have been talking about [similar plans],” said Faculty Affiliate Professor Olivia Mitchell. Done well, new retirement savings plans could enable well-meaning small business owners to give a valuable benefit to their employees that was out of reach before.
In investing, choice usually is a good thing. But new research suggests that having too many choices in a 401(k) retirement plan could be costly for participants. “Too many choices may create confusion, resulting in poorly informed consumer decisions,” says the report by Faculty Affiliate Olivia S. Mitchell.
Have you thought about where you are going to retire? Don’t forget to think about your destination state’s income tax rate and tax base. Faculty Affiliate Professor Olivia S. Mitchell explains this and what else you shouldn’t overlook.
Don’t assume your retirement will be worry free - a provision, known as the government pension offset (GPO), could reduce your Social Security spousal or survivor payments if you worked in a public-sector job not covered by Social Security.
Estimating liabilities is difficult because state pension administrators aren’t subject to the same financial and accounting standards as private pensions, says Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and executive director of the Pension Research Council. “States have tremendous leeway in how they calculate liabilities,” she says. In particular, states can project much higher investment returns than private pensions can.
Capitol Hill Testimony
Olivia S. Mitchell (2018). Enhancing risk management for an aging world, The Geneva Risk and Insurance Review, 1-22.
Marguerite DeLiema, Martha Deevy, Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell (2018). Exploring the Risks and Consequences of Elder Fraud Victimization: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study, Working Paper.
Olivia Mitchell, P. Brett Hammond and Stephen P. Utkus (2017). Financial Decision Making and Retirement Security in an Aging World, Oxford University Press.
Keim, Donald B. Mitchell, Olivia S. (2017). Simplifying choices in defined contribution retirement plan design: a case study, Journal of Pension Economics & Finance, 1-22.
Huffman, David. Maurer, Raimond. Mitchell, Olivia (2017). Time discounting and economic decision-making in the older population, The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, In Press.
Lusardi, Annamaria, Pierre-Carl Michaud, and Olivia S. Mitchell (2016). Optimal Financial Literacy and Wealth Inequality, Journal of Political Economy.
Maurer, Raymond, Olivia S. Mitchell, Ralph Rogalla, and Ivonne Siegelin (2016). Accounting-based Asset Return Smoothing in Participating Life Annuities: Implications for Annuitants, Insurers, and Policymakers, Insurance Mathematics and Economics.
Clark, Robert L., Annamaria Lusardi, and Olivia S. Mitchell (2016). Financial Literacy and Retirement Plan Behavior: A Case Study, Economic Inquiry.
Maurer, Raimond, Maurer, Olivia S. Mitchell, Ralph Rogalla, and Ivonne Siegelin (2016). Accounting-based Asset Return Smoothing in Participating Life Annuities: Implications for Annuitants, Insurers, and Policymakers, In Retirement System Risk Management: Implications of the New Regulatory Order, Oxford University Press, 56-73.
Maurer, Raymond, Olivia S. Mitchell, Ralph Rogalla, and Tatjana Schimetschek (2016).
Will They Take the Money and Work? An Empirical Analysis of People’s Willingness to Delay Claiming Social Security Benefits for a Lump Sum, Journal of Risk and Insurance.
Kim, Hugh Hoikwang, Raimond Maurer, and Olivia S. Mitchell (2016). Time is Money: Rational Life Cycle Inertia and the Delegation of Investment Management, Journal of Financial Economics, 121(2), 231-448.
Dimmock, Stephen G., Roy Kouwenberg, Olivia S. Mitchell and Kim Peijnenburg (2016). Ambiguity Attitudes and Economic Behavior: Results from a US Household Survey, Journal of Financial Economics, 119(3), 559–577.
Mitchell, Olivia S. and Raimond Maurer (2015). Recreating Retirement Sustainability, In Recreating Sustainable Retirement: Resilience, Solvency, and Tail Risk, Oxford University Press, 1-8.
Hubener, Andreas, Raimond Maurer, and Olivia S. Mitchell (2015). How Family Status and Social Security Claiming Options Shape Optimal Life Cycle Portfolios, Review of Financial Studies, 29(1): 937-978.
Dimmock, Stephen G., Roy Kouwenberg, Olivia S. Mitchell and Kim Peijnenburg (2015). Estimating Ambiguity Preferences and Perceptions in Multiple Prior Models: Evidence from the Field, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 51(3), 219-244.
Lusardi, Annamaria and Olivia S. Mitchell (2015). Financial Literacy and Economic Outcomes: Evidence and Policy Implications, Journal of Retirement Economics. 3(1): 107-114.
Lusardi, Annamaria and Olivia S. Mitchell. (2014). The Economic Importance of Financial Literacy: Theory and Evidence, Journal of Economic Literature, 52(1): 5-44.
Clark, Robert L. and Olivia S. Mitchell (2014). How Does Retiree Health Insurance Influence Public Sector Employee Saving?, Journal of Health Economics, 38, 109–118.
Lusardi, Annamaria, Olivia S. Mitchell, and Vilsa Curto (2013). Financial Literacy and Financial Sophistication among Older Americans, Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, 13, 347-366.
Maurer, Raimond, Olivia S. Mitchell, Ralph Rogalla, and Vasily Kartashov (2013). Lifecycle Portfolio Choice with Stochastic and Systematic Longevity Risk, and Variable Investment-Linked Deferred Annuities, Journal of Risk and Insurance, 80(3), 649–676.
Reimagining Pensions: The Next 40 Years
Edited by Olivia S. Mitchell and Richard C. Shea
Oxford University Press, Dec 16, 2015
The 1964 termination of the Studebaker Corporation’s pension plan wiped out or significantly reduced the pensions of thousands of the automaker’s employees and retirees. In response, the US Congress passed the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a monumental and revolutionary piece of legislation crafted to address corporate pension underfunding. Despite the bill’s far-ranging scope, in the decades since its passage, it has become evident that ERISA failed to achieve many of its intended objectives. The corporate pension scene today is in turmoil, and most private employers have terminated or frozen their traditional DB plans. In their place, employers are increasingly substituting defined contribution (DC) retirement saving plans, which pose a new set of responsibilities on employees and their firms. This volume investigates how and why traditional approaches to pension risk management have failed, and the new mechanisms required to strengthen retirement security for the future.