Veritas propter investigationem [Truth through research]
TitleDeterminants and Consequences of Moving Decisions for Older Americans (2009)
AuthorsEsteban Calvo
 Kelly Haverstick
 Natalia Zhivan
InstitutionCenter for Retirement Research
TopicsHousing mobility
 Housing wealth
 Survey results
CountryUnited States
Date Published2009
Date posted on PR09 Dec 2014
Calvo, E Haverstick, K Zhivan, N, (2009). Determinants and Consequences of Moving Decisions for Older Americans (2009) Center for Retirement Research,

PensionReforms’ summary and comments

Housing wealth (particularly owner-occupier housing wealth) is a significant share of retirement wealth in most developed countries.  Having a debt-free home at retirement gives retirees significantly more options about how and where they live in retirement.  It’s important that we understand what happens to this asset after retirement.


This 2009 report looks at what prompts older US residents to move houses (owners and renters).  It uses data from the ‘Health and Retirement Study’ (HRS) over the 1992-2004 period.  It covers households with members aged 51-61 in 1992 to those aged 63-73 in 2004.


“A significant share of older homeowners move.  While, according to the HRS, the two-year move rate is only a modest 7 percent, a full 30 percent move over the 12-year period studied.  Most moves are of a relatively short distance, with only a modest indication of Frost Belt to Sun Belt migration.”


The two-year rate for renters was more than three times that for owners – 23%.


Past research had identified two main types of movers – the ‘Planners’ who actively plan the move and the ‘Reactors’ for whom changing circumstances force a move.


“The Planners tend to have higher social and economic status and better health than the Reactors, suggesting greater time and flexibility to select a move destination.  The Reactors may be more pressed into a move decision by unexpected circumstances.”


The factors that influence the decision to stay put include:

-       older households;

-       having a female ‘head of house’;

-       households that do not experience a ‘shock’.


Factors influencing a decision to move include:

-       households headed by the unmarried, white or those with a college degree;

-       households that experience a negative shock such as death or divorce.


“The findings generally support the notion that older movers can be broadly categorized as either Planners or Reactors, based on whether they experience a negative shock.”


Movers who experience a negative shock “… are more likely to reduce their housing equity, which indicates that households may use their equity as insurance against catastrophic events.”


The report finds that “…about a third of the initial homeowners with shocks discontinued homeownership compared to 18 percent among households without shocks, again suggesting that households with shocks are forced to sell their homes and use some of the home equity to cover costs associated with shocks.”


With some qualifications, they are also more likely to become renters or choose to live with relatives.


Well-being measures follow a similar track – “…households with shocks tend to experience worsened psychological well-being outcomes compared to those without shocks.”  Though moving can improve psychological well-being, “… for homeowners experiencing shocks, these effects are often overshadowed by major shocks such as the death of a spouse.”


The report suggests that its findings support the “…hypothesis that households perceive housing wealth as insurance against catastrophic events.”


PensionReforms thinks that this is all much as we might have expected.  It tends to strengthen the case for emphasizing home ownership as a key retirement saving objective.  Arriving at retirement with a debt-free home gives retirees more chances to achieve their objectives, whatever those might be.   (File size 143 KB; 42 pp) 708