June 2016

Occupational Choice, Retirement, and the Effects of Disability Insurance

Lindsay Jacobs


There is much variation in the physical requirements across occupations, giving rise to great differences in later-life productivity, disability risk, and the value of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). In this paper, I look at how such differences across occupations affect initial career choice as well as the extent to which SSDI, which insures shocks to productivity due to disability, prompts more people to choose physically intense occupations. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Current Population Survey (CPS), I estimate a dynamic model of occupational choice and retirement with heterogeneous agents and equilibrium effects on earnings across occupations. I document the differences between blue-collar and white-collar occupations in the effects of declining health and disability on productivity, which affects labor supply in later life and, in the context of a life-cycle model, influences the occupation decision. Thro ugh counterfactual exercises, I show that the additional disability risk in blue-collar jobs relative to white-collar jobs is equivalent to an additional six percentage point reduction in lifetime consumption and that the absence of SSDI, which insures some of this risk, would be equivalent to, respectively, a twelve and seven percent reduction in consumption for those in blue- and white-collar jobs. Furthermore, I find that the presence of SSDI results in three percent more individuals choosing blue-collar occupations, which is comparable to the effect on occupation selection resulting from an eight-percent increase in blue-collar earnings. This overall effect, however, masks the importance of the selection of less risk-averse individuals into blue-collar jobs and the equilibrium effects on wages; earnings for the most risk-averse type would have to be nearly fifteen percent greater to choose blue-collar occupations in the absence of SSDI.

Accessible materials (.zip)

Keywords: Disability, life-cycle modeling, occupational choice, retirement

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2016.051

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: June 19, 2020