Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers

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Working Paper

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Household debt among older Americans approaching retirement has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades. Older households have become increasingly more indebted and more leveraged. While mortgages remain the predominant type of debt among households in their 50s and 60s, in recent years, student loan debt has also risen among these households. Using household survey data to examine how late life debt affects retirement decisions, we find that more indebted older adults are more likely to work, less likely to be retired, and on average expect to work longer than those with less debt.


Older adults, household debt, mortgages, student loan debt

Working Paper Number



Barbara A. Butrica is a Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC and Nadia S. Karamcheva is an Economist at the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, DC. The findings and conclusions are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Congressional Budget Office, any agency of the Federal Government, or the Urban Institute, its board, or its sponsors.

Copyright/Permission Statement

All findings, interpretations, and conclusions of this paper represent the views of the author(s) and not those of the Wharton School or the Pension Research Council. © 2019 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.


The authors would like to thank Bret Hammond, Joshua Mitchell, Kevin Moore, John Sabelhaus, Jason Seligman, and the participants of the 2019 Symposium of the Pension Research Council for thoughtful comments and suggestions. All errors are the authors’ own.

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Economics Commons



Date Posted: 25 September 2019