Olivia Mitchell, Distinguished Fellow 2023


Olivia MitchellOlivia S. Mitchell is the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Professor, as well as Professor of Insurance and Risk Management and Business Economics and Policy; at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She is also Executive Director of the Pension Research Council; and Director of the Boettner Center on Pensions and Retirement Research. Mitchell is a public economist who has made seminal contributions to the understanding of pensions, Social Security, retirement, and financial literacy. She served on as a Commissioner on the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security and has served on numerous other boards and working groups focused on Social Security or retirement.

Originally trained as a labor economist, Mitchell's work shifted towards pensions when she was asked to teach a course in her first job at Cornell University.  This led to a series of papers and a 1984 book on with Gary S. Fields, Retirement, Pensions, and Social Security (MIT Press). The book rigorously examined income opportunities for older workers and retirement responses to income opportunities in an economic framework and discussed the anticipated effects of Social Security reform and of requiring private pension neutrality. More work on retirement, social security, and pensions followed. One important paper examined the value of individual annuities in 1995, 1990 and 1985 using an updated algorithm for valuation to shed light on the nature of the market and usefulness of annuities for retirement planning (with James Poterba, Mark Warshawsky, and Jeffrey Brown, American Economic Review, 1999). It was followed in 2001 by The Role of Annuity Markets in Financing Retirement (with Jeffrey Brown, James Poterba, and Mark Warshawsky, MIT Press).

In a seminal paper, Mitchell examined retirement security in two cohorts of the Health and Retirement Survey, early Baby Boomers surveyed in 2004 and earlier cohort surveyed in 1992 (with Annamaria Lusardi, Journal of Monetary Economics, 2007). The paper found total net worth was very similar across the two groups, but that Boomers had more housing equity than the earlier cohort. For both groups, key differences in financial literacy and planning led planners to arrive at retirement with much higher levels of wealth than nonplanners. The paper won the Fidelity Pyramid Research Institute Award in 2007. Mitchell explored the role of financial literacy in a series of papers and an important survey of the literature (with Annamaria Lusardi, Journal of Economic Literature, 2014).  In a related paper, Mitchell used stochastic life cycle model with endogenous financial knowledge accumulation to examine the role of financial knowledge in wealth inequality (with Annamaria Lusardi and Pierre-Carl Michaud, Journal of Political Economy, 2017).  She won the EBRI Lillywhite Award in 2017 for lifetime contributions to Americans' economic security and FINRA Investor Education Foundation Ketchum Prize in 2019 for her research on pensions, retirement income, and financial literacy.

Olivia Mitchell has served the American Economic Association as Vice President (2020–2021) and Executive Committee Member (2003–2007). She served on the AEA Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP) Board (1994–96) and is the 2008 winner of the Caroline Bell Shaw Award from CSWEP for her work on the status of women in economics.