Faculty Publications


An International Perspective on Safe Withdrawal Rates from Retirement Savings: The Demise of the 4 Percent Rule?

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Numerous studies about sustainable withdrawal rates from retirement savings have been published, but they are overwhelmingly based on the same underlying data for US asset returns since 1926. From an international perspective, the United States enjoyed a particularly favorable climate for asset returns in the twentieth century, and to the extent that the US may experience mean reversion in the current century, "safe" withdrawal rates may be overstated in many studies. This paper explores the issue of sustainable withdrawal rates using 109 years of financial market data for 17 developed market countries in an attempt to provide a broader perspective about safe withdrawal rates, as financial planners and their clients must consider whether they will be comfortable basing decisions using the impressive and perhaps anomalous numbers found in the past US data. From an international perspective, a 4 percent real withdrawal rate is surprisingly risky. Even with some overly optimistic assumptions, it would have only provided "safety" in 4 of the 17 countries. A fixed asset allocation split evenly between stocks and bonds would have failed at some point in all 17 countries.