Center for Retirement Research


What is this Center all about? What is in it for current and prospective sociology graduate students?

This memo attempts to address questions that will be of interest to both current and prospective graduate students. If you want to learn more, please contact Professor John B. Williamson.

The Social Security Administration has recently awarded Boston College a grant of $5.25 million to set up a retirement policy research center. This money is to be spread over 5 years and much of it will go to other universities (MIT, Syracuse, BU) and research centers (Brookings Institution, The Urban Institute) linked to B.C. in the original proposal to the Social Security Administration. About $400,000-$500,000 per year will be spent here at Boston College.

The focus of the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) will be on the analysis of large quantitative datasets, but some of the research will be qualitative. The focus will be on economic research, but there is a very real desire for this center to be interdisciplinary. Thus an effort will be made to support graduate students in social work, sociology, psychology, and political science as well as economics and finance.

The Director of this new Center will be Alicia Munnell (CSOM). She is a former member of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, etc.). She is an economist with an interest in such issues as the generational equity debate and the impact of proposed changes in Social Security policy on women. Professor John Williamson of the Department of Sociology was one of several Boston College faculty on the team that put together the proposal. He is the department's liaison with the RRC.

1. There will be funding for 5 dissertation fellowships per year each paying $20,000. For some of those funded, it will be possible to get funding for a second year at the same level. These fellowships are for advanced graduate students. Five will be awarded during the first year and another five the second year so after the second year there could be up to 10 students per year being funded. However, this funding will be distributed across several universities and several departments here at Boston College. A reasonable guess is that after the first year about 4 BC students per year will be funded. Another reasonable guess that about 2-3 will be students in economics and finance and 1-2 will be students in sociology, psychology, political science, and social work.

2. At least during the first year there will be 3 research stipends of $5,000 for Boston College graduate students. This may continue for all 5 years. It is reasonable to assume that this money would generally be for those who do not have dissertation fellowships.

3. At Boston College 3 graduate students will be funded as research assistants during the summer ($4,000). It is likely that one will be a research assistant for Professor John Williamson. It is possible that there will be a second summer research assistantship available to a sociology graduate student working for Professor Regina O'Grady-LeSane in the Graduate School of Social Work.

4. Through this center it will be possible to get access to the HRS and (eventually) AHEAD datasets. To find out more about these datasets check the HRS and AHEAD home page. HRS refers the Health and Retirement Study. It is a longitudinal study of a national sample of 12,600 people age 51 to 61 in 1992. AHEAD refers to the Survey of Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old. It is a longitudinal study of 8,200 persons age 70 and over in 1993. In addition to any funding through the Retirement Research Center at Boston College, there is additional dissertation funding available from the National Institute on Aging for graduate students working with these datasets. Work with these datasets will not be easy, but it will provide an opportunity to develop a set of skills that are in great demand in various research centers around the country.

5. What research is relevant to this center. Clearly any research that deals with retirement or retirement policy is relevant. Any research that is relevant to Social Security is relevant. This center will not focus on health issues, but health is often an important part of the retirement decision and thus health issues linked to retirement would be relevant. The RRC is new and it is entirely possible over time the mission of the RRC will expand to include a broader range of topics. It might well expect to cover just about any research that a person might want to do using the HRS or the AHEAD datasets. It would also include research using a big dataset on private pension funds (401 (k) plans). Over time other major datasets may be added.

6. How about qualitative research? It will be possible to get some qualitative projects supported. It might be possible to get some qualitative research alone the lines of the frame analysis that Bill Gamson uses in some of his current research if applied to something like the current debate over Social Security Policy. It might be possible to get some research with Ramon Grosfoguel funded if it links immigration to retirement and Social Security policy. It might be possible to get some ethnographic research along the lines of what David Karp does funded, if it is linked to retirement. At this point you would probably have to make the case that you have a command of the relevant literature in social policy or the sociology of aging.

7. There will be a lot going on at the CRR that will be of potential interest to sociology graduate students interested in social policy. There will be an annual conference that will be interesting to attend. It is possible that some of our graduate students will be able to present papers at that conference. Some of those papers will be selected for publication in an edited volume that will be prepared. It is possible that the book would be published by the Brookings Institution (not that any such agreement has as yet been made) as several senior staff members from Brookings are part of the team that won the $5.25 million grant.

8. The CRR will be a place to meet with and learn from graduate students in other departments at Boston College doing research on topics related to Social Security and Retirement. It is also possible that you will be in contact with graduate students from MIT and BU through the center.

9. The CRR also has funding for post-doctoral fellows (paid $30,000/year).

10. Participation in the CRR will not be limited students who will be funded by the Center. There will be speakers, conferences, datasets, etc. available to a much broader group of graduate students. An affiliation with the RRC will also be of potential use to students who are willing to make an effort to apply to NIA (National Institute on Aging) or some other outside funding source for dissertation support. There will be other graduate students doing that and sharing of information about where the money is and how to get it.

For further information, contact Prof. John B. Williamson by e-mail at and see the website for the Center for Retirement Research