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Dying to Retire: Adverse Selection and Welfare in Social Security

Author

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  • Andrew Beauchamp

    (Boston College)

  • Mathis Wagner

    (Boston College)

Abstract

Despite facing some of the same challenges as private insurance markets, little is known about the role of adverse selection in social insurance programs. This paper studies adverse selection in Social Security retirement choices using data from the Health and Retirement Study. We find robust evidence that people who live longer choose larger annuities by delaying the age they first claim benefits, a form of adverse selection. To quantify welfare consequences we develop and estimate a simple model of annuity choice. We exploit variation in longevity, the underlying source of private information, to identify the key structural parameters: the coefficient of relative risk aversion and the discount rate. We estimate that adverse selection reduces social welfare by 2.3-3.5 percent, and increases the costs to the Social Security Trust Fund by 2.1-2.5 percent, relative to the first best allocation. Counterfactual simulations suggest program adjustments could generate both economically significant decreases in costs and small increases in social welfare. We estimate an optimal non-linear accrual rate which would result in welfare gains of 1.4 percent, and cost reductions of 6.1 percent of current program costs.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew Beauchamp & Mathis Wagner, 2012. "Dying to Retire: Adverse Selection and Welfare in Social Security," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 818, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 15 Aug 2013.
  • Handle: RePEc:boc:bocoec:818
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Goda, Gopi Shah & Ramnath, Shanthi & Shoven, John B. & Slavov, Sita Nataraj, 2018. "The financial feasibility of delaying Social Security: evidence from administrative tax data," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 17(4), pages 419-436, October.
    2. John B. Shoven & Sita Nataraj Slavov & David A. Wise, 2017. "Social Security Claiming Decisions: Survey Evidence," NBER Working Papers 23729, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Gila Bronshtein & Jason Scott & John B. Shoven & Sita N. Slavov, 2016. "Leaving Big Money on the Table: Arbitrage Opportunities in Delaying Social Security," NBER Working Papers 22853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. John Shoven & Sita Slavov, 2013. "Recent Changes In The Gains From Delaying Social Security," Discussion Papers 13-019, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    5. Martin B. Hackmann & Jonathan T. Kolstad & Amanda E. Kowalski, 2015. "Adverse Selection and an Individual Mandate: When Theory Meets Practice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(3), pages 1030-1066, March.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Adverse Selection; Social Security; Optimal Policy;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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