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The Optimal Design of Social Security Benefits

Author

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  • Shinichi Nishiyama

    (Georgia State University)

  • Kent Smetters

    (The Wharton School)

Abstract

The United States Social Security system is fairly unique in that it explicitly allows for a progressive formulation of retirement benefits by assigning a larger replacement rate to workers with small pre-retirement wages. In contrast, the public pension systems in other countries often replace a constant fraction of pre-retirement wages, although the length of the “averaging period" is typically shorter relative to the U.S. This paper examines the ex-ante optimal U.S. Social Security benefit structure using the model developed in Nishiyama and Smetters (2007). On one hand, progressivity in the benefit structure provides risk sharing against shocks that are difficult to insure privately. On the other hand, progressivity introduces various marginal tax rates that distort labor supply. Rather surprisingly, we find that the ex-ante best U.S. Social Security replacement rate structure is fairly “flat.” Intuitively, the relatively long averaging period used in the U.S. system formulation already provides some insurance against negative idiosyncratic shocks, but in a manner that is more efficient than explicit redistribution.

Suggested Citation

  • Shinichi Nishiyama & Kent Smetters, 2008. "The Optimal Design of Social Security Benefits," Working Papers wp197, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp197
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    File URL: http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp197.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David Altig, 2001. "Simulating Fundamental Tax Reform in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(3), pages 574-595, June.
    2. Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
    3. Shinichi Nishiyama & Kent Smetters, 2007. "Does Social Security Privatization Produce Efficiency Gains?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1677-1719.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bagchi, Shantanu, 2015. "Labor supply and the optimality of Social Security," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 167-185.
    2. Kallweit, Manuel & Fehr, Hans & Kindermann, Fabian, 2011. "Should pensions be progressive? Yes, at least in Germany!," Annual Conference 2011 (Frankfurt, Main): The Order of the World Economy - Lessons from the Crisis 48708, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    3. Shantanu Bagchi, 2016. "Differential Mortality and the Progressivity of Social Security," Working Papers 2016-03, Towson University, Department of Economics, revised Aug 2016.
    4. Fehr, Hans & Uhde, Johannes, 2012. "Optimal Pension Design in General Equlibrium," Annual Conference 2012 (Goettingen): New Approaches and Challenges for the Labor Market of the 21st Century 62024, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    5. Fehr, Hans & Kallweit, Manuel & Kindermann, Fabian, 2013. "Should pensions be progressive?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 94-116.

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