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The Perception of Social Security Incentives for Labor Supply and Retirement: The Median Voter Knows More Than You'd Think

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 26

  • Jeffrey B. Liebman
  • Erzo F. P. Luttmer

The degree to which the Social Security tax distorts labor supply depends on the extent to which individuals perceive the link between current earnings and future Social Security benefits. Some Social Security reform plans have been motivated by an assumption that workers fail to perceive this link and that increasing the salience of the link could result in significant efficiency gains. To measure the perceived linkage between labor supply and Social Security benefits, we administered a survey to a representative sample of Americans aged 50–70. We find that the majority of respondents believe that their Social Security benefits increase with labor supply. Indeed, respondents generally report a link between labor supply and future benefits that is somewhat greater than the actual incentive. We also surveyed people about their understanding of various other provisions in the Social Security benefit rules. We find that some of these provisions (e.g., effects of delayed benefit claiming and rules on widow benefits) are relatively well understood while others (e.g., rules on spousal benefits, provisions on which years of earnings are taken into account) are less well understood. In addition, our survey incorporated a framing experiment, which shows that how the incentives for delayed claiming are presented has an impact on hypothetical claiming decisions. In particular, the traditional “break-even” framing used by the Social Security Administration leads to earlier claiming than other presentations do.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Jeffrey Brown, 2012. "Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 26," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number brow11-2, August.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 12559.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:12559
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Bernheim, B Douglas & Levin, Lawrence, 1989. "Social Security and Personal Saving: An Analysis of Expectations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 97-102, May.
    2. Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1995. "Privatization of Social Security: How it Works and Why it Matters," Boston University - Institute for Economic Development 66, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development.
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    9. Liebman, Jeffrey B. & Luttmer, Erzo F.P. & Seif, David G., 2009. "Labor Supply Responses to Marginal Social Security Benefits: Evidence from Discontinuities," Scholarly Articles 4481678, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
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    14. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S Mitchelli, 2007. "Financial Literacy and Retirement Preparedness: Evidence and Implications for Financial Education," Business Economics, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 42(1), pages 35-44, January.
    15. Gale, William G, 1994. "Public Policies and Private Pension Contributions," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 26(3), pages 710-32, August.
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