Trends in retirement and retirement income choices by TIAA participants: 2000–2018

Research Report

This paper examines estimated retirement ages and retirement income choices for TIAA participants over the 2000 to 2018 period. Retirees have access to a full menu of distribution options; including life annuities, non-life guaranteed income, systematic withdrawals, required minimum distributions (RMDs) and cash.


Participants are retiring at later ages. Between 2000 and 2018, average retirement ages rose from 64.6 to 65.9 for women and from 65.5 to 67.5 for men. Many new retirees delay drawing down assets, with only 40% starting income within four years of retirement. The combination of later retirement ages and delayed first income means a growing proportion of retirees reach RMD age (70.5) before taking any income. The proportion of retirees taking a life annuity as first income fell from 61% in 2000 to 18% in 2018. By comparison, the fraction of retirees taking an RMD as first income rose from 10% to 52%. We find important differences in initial retirement income choices based on RMD requirements. In 2018, 38% of retirees under age 70 and 6% of those over age 70 took a life annuity as a first income draw. Overall, in 2018 about 30% of participants had a life annuity as part of their income distribution. A life annuity and RMD were the most common pairing of income distributions.

Key Insights

  • The number of retirees under age 70 starting income increased by a factor of 2.25 from 2000 to 2018. By comparison, the number of retirees over age 70 increased by 15 fold over the same time period.
  • The rate of first income annuity take-up for retirees under age 70 has increased slightly, rising from 33% in 2006 to 38% in 2018.
  • The rate of first income annuity take-up for retirees over age 70 has decreased by half from 12% in 2006 to 6% in 2018. An RMD as first income increased from 52% to 85% over the same time period.
  • Partial annuitization is a common strategy for retirees taking more than one type of income distribution. About one in five retirees had multiple forms of income, with the most common pairing being an RMD and a life annuity.
  • Due to a combination of later retirement ages and delayed first income, an RMD is becoming the de facto default distribution choice for retirees

In 2018, about 30% of retirees had a life annuity as part of their retirement income distribution.


The authors analyze trends in TIAA participant estimated retirement ages, first income distribution choices, and total income distributions.


Jeffrey Brown

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

James Poterba

MIT and CREF Trustee

David P. Richardson
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