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Would People Behave Differently If They Better Understood Social Security? Evidence From a Field Experiment

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

This paper presents the results of a field experiment in which a sample of older workers was randomized between a treatment group that was given information about key Social Security provisions and a control group that was not. The experiment was designed to examine whether it is possible to affect individual behavior using a relatively inexpensive informational intervention about the provisions of a public program and to explore the mechanisms underlying the behavior change. We find that our relatively mild intervention (sending an informational brochure and an invitation to a web-tutorial) increased labor force participation one year later by 4 percentage points relative to the control group mean of 74 percent and that this effect is driven by a 7.2 percentage point increase among female subjects. In addition to affecting actual labor supply behavior, the information intervention increased survey measures of the perceived returns to working longer, especially among female respondents.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17287.

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Date of creation: Aug 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as 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.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17287
Note: AG LS PE
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  1. Liebman, Jeffrey & Luttmer, Erzo E. P. & Seif, David G., 2009. "Labor Supply Responses to Marginal Social Security Benefits: Evidence from Discontinuities," Working Paper Series rwp09-003, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  2. John Beshears & James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2007. "How Are Preferences Revealed?," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001760, UCLA Department of Economics.
  3. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and taxation: theory and evidence," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-11, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Mitchell, Olivia S, 1988. "Worker Knowledge of Pension Provisions," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(1), pages 21-39, January.
  5. Jeffrey R. Kling & Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir & Lee Vermeulen & Marian Wrobel, 2011. "Comparison Friction: Experimental Evidence from Medicare Drug Plans," NBER Working Papers 17410, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Jeffrey R. Brown & Arie Kapteyn & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2011. "Framing Effects and Expected Social Security Claiming Behavior," Working Papers 854, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  7. Eckstein, Zvi & Lifshitz, Osnat, 2009. "Dynamic Female Labor Supply," IZA Discussion Papers 4550, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2010. "The Role of Information for Retirement Behavior: Evidence based on the Stepwise Introduction of the Social Security Statement," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 139, Collegio Carlo Alberto, revised 2010.
  9. James Heckman & Seong Hyeok Moon & Rodrigo Pinto & Peter Savelyev & Adam Yavitz, 2010. "Analyzing social experiments as implemented: A reexamination of the evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 1(1), pages 1-46, 07.
  10. Adeline Delavande & Susann Rohwedder, 2008. "Eliciting Subjective Expectations in Internet Surveys," Working Papers 589, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  11. Hugo Benítez-Silva & Berna Demiralp & Zhen Liu, 2009. "Social Security Literacy and Retirement Well-Being," Working Papers wp210, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  12. Daron Acemoglu & Amy Finkelstein, 2006. "Input and Technology Choices in Regulated Industries: Evidence From the Health Care Sector," NBER Working Papers 12254, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2009. "How Ordinary Consumers Make Complex Economic Decisions: Financial Literacy and Retirement Readiness," NBER Working Papers 15350, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2007. "Beyond Revealed Preference Choice Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics," Discussion Papers 07-031, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  15. Raj Chetty & Emmanuel Saez, 2009. "Teaching the Tax Code: Earnings Responses to an Experiment with EITC Recipients," NBER Working Papers 14836, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. 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.
  17. Gopi Shah Goda & Colleen Flaherty Manchester & Aaron Sojourner, 2012. "What Will My Account Really Be Worth? An Experiment on Exponential Growth Bias and Retirement Saving," NBER Working Papers 17927, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Anderson, Michael L., 2008. "Multiple Inference and Gender Differences in the Effects of Early Intervention: A Reevaluation of the Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, and Early Training Projects," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 103(484), pages 1481-1495.
  19. Justine S. Hastings & Lydia Tejeda-Ashton, 2008. "Financial Literacy, Information, and Demand Elasticity: Survey and Experimental Evidence from Mexico," NBER Working Papers 14538, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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