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When Does It Pay to Delay Social Security? The Impact of Mortality, Interest Rates, and Program Rules


  • John B. Shoven
  • Sita Nataraj Slavov


Social Security benefits may be commenced at any time between ages 62 and 70. As individuals who claim later can, on average, expect to receive benefits for a shorter period, an actuarial adjustment is made to the monthly benefit to reflect the age at which benefits are claimed. In earlier work (Shoven and Slavov, 2012), we investigated the actuarial fairness of this adjustment for individuals with average life expectancy for their cohort. We found that for current real interest rates, delaying is actuarially advantageous for a large subset of people, particularly for primary earners in married couples. In this paper, we quantify the degree of actuarial advantage or disadvantage for individuals whose mortality differs from the average. We find that at real interest rates close to zero, most households - even those with mortality rates that are twice the average - benefit from some delay, at least for the primary earner. At real interest rates closer to their historical average, however, singles with mortality that is substantially greater than average do not benefit from delay; however, primary earners with high mortality can still improve the present value of the household's benefits through delay. We also investigate the extent to which the actuarial advantage of delay has grown since the early 1960s, when the choice of when to claim first became available, and we decompose this growth into three effects: (1) the effect of changes in Social Security's rules, (2) the effect of changes in the real interest rate, and (3) the effect of changes in life expectancy.

Suggested Citation

  • John B. Shoven & Sita Nataraj Slavov, 2012. "When Does It Pay to Delay Social Security? The Impact of Mortality, Interest Rates, and Program Rules," NBER Working Papers 18210, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18210
    Note: AG

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Coile, Courtney & Diamond, Peter & Gruber, Jonathan & Jousten, Alain, 2002. "Delays in claiming social security benefits," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(3), pages 357-385, June.
    2. Michael D. Hurd & James P. Smith & Julie M. Zissimopoulos, 2004. "The effects of subjective survival on retirement and Social Security claiming," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(6), pages 761-775.
    3. Alicia H. Munnell & Alex Golub-Sass & Nadia Karamcheva, 2009. "Strange But True: Claim Social Security Now, Claim More Later," Issues in Brief ib2009-9-9, Center for Retirement Research, revised Apr 2009.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gustman, Alan L. & Steinmeier, Thomas L., 2015. "Effects of social security policies on benefit claiming, retirement and saving," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 51-62.
    2. Raimond Maurer & Olivia S. Mitchell & Ralph Rogalla & Tatjana Schimetschek, 2014. "Will They Take the Money and Work? An Empirical Analysis of People's Willingness to Delay Claiming Social Security Benefits for a Lump Sum," NBER Working Papers 20614, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Jingjing Chai & Raimond Maurer & Olivia S. Mitchell & Ralph Rogalla, 2012. "Exchanging Delayed Social Security Benefits for Lump Sums: Could This Incentivize Longer Work Careers?," Working Papers wp266, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    4. 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.
    5. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 2012. "Behavioral Effects of Social Security Policies on Benefit Claiming, Retirement and Saving," Working Papers wp263, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    6. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier & Nahid Tabatabai, 2014. "The Great Recession, Decline and Rebound in Household Wealth for the Near Retirement Population," NBER Working Papers 20584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions

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