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The Social Security Windfall Elimination and Government Pension Offset Provisions for Public Employees in the Health and Retirement Study


  • Alan L. Gustman
  • Thomas L. Steinmeier
  • Nahid Tabatabai


This paper uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to investigate the effects of Social Security's Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision on Social Security benefits received by individuals and households. WEP reduces the benefits of individuals who worked in jobs covered by Social Security and also worked in uncovered jobs where a pension was earned. WEP also reduces spouse benefits. GPO reduces spouse and survivor benefits for persons who worked in uncovered government employment where they also earned a pension. Unlike previous studies, we take explicit account of pensions earned on jobs not covered by Social Security, a key determinant of the size of WEP and GPO adjustments. Also unlike previous studies, we focus on the household. This allows us to incorporate the full effects of WEP and GPO on spouse and survivor benefits, and to evaluate the effects of WEP and GPO on the assets accumulated by affected families. Among our findings: About 3.5 percent of households are subject to either WEP or to GPO. The present value of their Social Security benefits is reduced by roughly one fifth. This amounts to five to six percent of the total wealth they accumulate before retirement. Households affected by both WEP and GPO lose about one third of their benefit. Limiting the reduction in the Social Security benefit to half the size of the pension from uncovered employment reduces the penalty from WEP for members of the original HRS cohort by about 60 percent.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier & Nahid Tabatabai, 2013. "The Social Security Windfall Elimination and Government Pension Offset Provisions for Public Employees in the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Working Papers 19724, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19724
    Note: AG LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gustman, Alan L. & Steinmeier, Thomas L., 2001. "How effective is redistribution under the social security benefit formula?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 1-28, October.
    2. Brown, Jeffrey R. & Weisbenner, Scott J., 2013. "The distributional effects of the Social Security windfall elimination provision," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(04), pages 415-434, October.
    3. Gustman, Alan L. & Steinmeier, Thomas L. & Tabatabai, Nahid, 2013. "Redistribution under the Social Security benefit formula at the individual and household levels, 1992 and 2004," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(01), pages 1-27, January.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions
    • J45 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Public Sector Labor Markets

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