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How Representative are Representative Workers? An Assessment of the Hypothetical Workers Commonly Used in Social Security Studies

  • Wade D. Pfau


    (National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies)

An understanding of the financial and distributional consequences of Social Security reform requires knowledge about the actual life circumstances of participants, including the level and pattern of their lifetime earnings and their age at retirement. Some analyses of Social Security reform make simplifying assumptions about these characteristics by using ‘hypothetical workers’ with set career paths. We seek to develop greater understanding about actual lifetime earnings patterns to compare with hypothetical workers and find discrepancies which lead typical hypothetical workers to produce a more favorable impression for defined-contribution pension reforms. We suggest modifications to make a more suitable hypothetical worker.

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Article provided by Journal of Income Distribution in its journal Journal of Income Distribution.

Volume (Year): 18 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2 (June)
Pages: 92-117

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Handle: RePEc:jid:journl:y:2009:v:18:i:2:p:92-117
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  1. Steven Caldwell & Melissa Favreault & Alla Gantman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Thomas Johnson & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 109-148 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton & Thomas Glass, 1999. "Distributional Impacts of Proposed Changes to the Social Security System," NBER Working Papers 6989, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Whitehouse, Edward, 2007. "Pensions panorama: retirement-income systems in 53 countries," MPRA Paper 14797, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  4. Thomas L. Hungerford, 2003. "Do Workers with Low Lifetime Earnings Really Have Low Earnings Every Year?: Implications for Social Security Reform," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_389, Levy Economics Institute.
  5. Andrew Au & Olivia S. Mitchell & John W. R. Phillips, 2004. "Modeling Lifetime Earnings Paths: Hypothetical versus Actual Workers," Working Papers wp074, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
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