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Market Valuation of Accrued Social Security Benefits

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Abstract

One 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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  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1711
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Luca Benzoni & Pierre Collin-Dufresne & Robert S. Goldstein, 2007. "Portfolio Choice over the Life-Cycle when the Stock and Labor Markets Are Cointegrated," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 62(5), pages 2123-2167, October.
    2. John Geanakoplos & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2009. "Reforming Social Security with Progressive Personal Accounts," NBER Chapters,in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 73-121 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Alexander W. Blocker & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Stephen A. Ross, 2008. "The True Cost of Social Security," NBER Working Papers 14427, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Deborah Lucas, 2007. "Valuing & Hedging: Defined Benefit Pension Obligations - The Role of Stocks Revisited," Money Macro and Finance (MMF) Research Group Conference 2006 169, Money Macro and Finance Research Group.
    5. Cox, John C. & Ross, Stephen A. & Rubinstein, Mark, 1979. "Option pricing: A simplified approach," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 229-263, September.
    6. William Goetzmann, 2005. "More Social Security, Not Less," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm449, Yale School of Management.
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    Cited by:

    1. Robert Novy-Marx & Joshua D. Rauh, 2012. "Fiscal Imbalances and Borrowing Costs: Evidence from State Investment Losses," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 182-213, May.
    2. Nick Draper & Casper Ewijk & Marcel Lever & Roel Mehlkopf, 2014. "Stochastic Generational Accounting Applied to Reforms of Dutch Occupational Pensions," De Economist, Springer, vol. 162(3), pages 287-307, September.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Social security; Market value; Risk adjustment; Actuarial value; Wage bonds; Unfunded obligations;

    JEL classification:

    • E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates

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