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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, July.
  • 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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    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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    1. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 2002. "The Social Security Early Entitlement Age in a Structural Model of Retirement and Wealth," NBER Working Papers 9183, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Courtney Coile & Peter Diamond & Jonathan Gruber & Alain Jousten, 1999. "Delays in Claiming Social Security Benefits," NBER Working Papers 7318, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Pierre-Carl Michaud & Arthur van Soest, 2007. "How did the Elimination of the Earnings Test above the Normal Retirement Age affect Retirement Expectations?," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 174, McMaster University.
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    9. Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1996. "Privatization of Social Security: How It Works and Why It Matters," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 10, pages 1-32 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    12. Jeffrey B. Liebman & Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2015. "Would People Behave Differently If They Better Understood Social Security? Evidence from a Field Experiment," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(1), pages 275-99, February.
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    15. Gopi Shah Goda & John B. Shoven & Sita Nataraj Slavov, 2009. "Removing the Disincentives in Social Security for Long Careers," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 21-38 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Courtney Coile & Jonathan Gruber, 2007. "Future Social Security Entitlements and the Retirement Decision," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 234-246, May.
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