Some U.S. families with heads near retirement did fine from 2007 to 2009 – and members of those families seem to be about as nervous about spending as families that lost heavily during the crisis.

Elizabeth Duke, a Federal Reserve governor, talked about evidence for that conclusion Thursday at a lecture in Richmond, Va., at a lecture organized by the Virginia Association of Economists.

Duke used preliminary 2007 and 2009 data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Elizabeth DukeConsumer Finances to analyze the effects of the crisis on the attitudes of families with heads who were ages 50 to 61 in 2007.

Duke found that 58% of all families lost amount of wealth to about 1 month or more of their usual income between 2007 and 2009, and that 43% lost wealth equal to 6 months of income or more.

But Duke also found that 32% of families increased their wealth by an amount equal to at least 1 month of their usual income, and that 21% enjoyed a gain equal to 6 months or more of their usual income.

Similarly, in families with heads nearing retirement, 49% lost wealth equal to 6 months or more of their usual income, and 22% gained wealth equal to 6 months or more of their usual income.

The families held roughly the same mix of assets in 2007 and 2009, and the changes in wealth seemed to be due mainly to changes in the value of homes, securities and other assets, Duke said.

Economists using traditional economic theories might predict that the families that had suffered big losses would be more cautious and more interested in saving, because of the effect of the losses on household wealth, Duke said, according to a written version of her remarks provided by the Fed.

When Fed researchers actually looked at the survey data, however, they found that the families that gained wealth gave answers that were similar to those given by the families that suffered

serious losses, Duke said.

The Fed found, for example, that about two-thirds of the near retirees polled in 2009 expected to retire at least 1 year later than they had suggested in 2007.

“The share of families expecting to extend their working life was very similar regardless of their change in wealth,” Duke said. “This likely suggests increased uncertainty about the future, no matter what their experience during the financial crisis, as also suggested by other results in the survey.”

The percentage of near retirees who said they were unwilling to take financial risk increased to 35% in 2009, from 30% in 2007, for those who suffered deep losses during the crisis, and also increased to 39%, from 34%, for those who enjoyed significant gains in family wealth.

Both groups of near retirees also were cautious when estimating the amount they might need to cope with emergencies. The average emergency fund estimate increased to $10,000, from $7,000, for the near retirees who lost money during the crisis and increased to $10,000, from $5,000, from the near retirees who enjoyed significant gains.

“The varied change in wealth for preretirement families, taken together with the changes in retirement plans, risk attitudes, and willingness to spend in response to changes in wealth, imply that some of the effects of recent economic turmoil may result in a longer period of economic adjustment than has been the case in past recessions, as fundamental attitudes appear to have shifted,” Duke said.

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