Market Valuation of Accrued Social Security Benefits
AbstractOne measure of the health of the Social Security system is the difference between the market value of the trust fund and the present value of benefits accrued to date. How should present values be computed for this calculation in light of future uncertainties? We think it is important to use market value. Since claims on accrued benefits are not currently traded in financial markets, we cannot directly observe a market value. In this paper, we use a model to estimate what the market price for these claims would be if they were traded. In valuing such claims, the key issue is properly adjusting for risk. The traditional actuarial approach – the approach currently used by the Social Security Administration in generating its most widely cited numbers - ignores risk and instead simply discounts “expected” future flows back to the present using a risk-free rate. If benefits are risky and this risk is priced by the market, then actuarial estimates will differ from market value. Effectively, market valuation uses a discount rate that incorporates a risk premium. Developing the proper adjustment for risk requires a careful examination of the stream of future benefits. The U.S. Social Security system is “wage-indexed”: future benefits depend directly on future realizations of the economy-wide average wage index. We assume that there is a positive long-run correlation between average labor earnings and the stock market. We then use derivative pricing methods standard in the finance literature to compute the market price of individual claims on future benefits, which depend on age and macro state variables. Finally, we aggregate the market value of benefits across all cohorts to arrive at an overall value of accrued benefits. We find that the difference between market valuation and “actuarial” valuation is large, especially when valuing the benefits of younger cohorts. Overall, the market value of accrued benefits is only 4/5 of that implied by the actuarial approach. Ignoring cohorts over age 60 (for whom the valuations are the same), market value is only 70% as large as that implied by the actuarial approach.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15170.
Date of creation: Jul 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as John Geanokoplos, Stephen P. Zeldes. "Market Valuation of Accrued Social Security Benefits," in Deborah Lucas, editor, "Measuring and Managing Federal Financial Risk" University of Chicago Press (2010)
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Other versions of this item:
- John Geanokoplos & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2010. "Market Valuation of Accrued Social Security Benefits," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring and Managing Federal Financial Risk, pages 213-233 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- John Geanakoplos & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2009. "Market Valuation of Accrued Social Security Benefits," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1711, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
- D91 - Microeconomics - - Intertemporal Choice - - - Intertemporal Household Choice; Life Cycle Models and Saving
- E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
- G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets
- G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates
- H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2009-07-28 (All new papers)
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
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- John Geanakoplos & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2008. "Reforming Social Security with Progressive Personal Accounts," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1664, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
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