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Should Social Security Benefits Increase with Age?


  • Martin Feldstein


This paper shows that the optimal relation between social security benefits and retiree age depends on balancing the advantage of providing an otherwise unavailable actuarially fair annuity against the lower rate of return earned in a pay-as-you-go social security system. The ability of compulsory social security programs to provide an actuarially fair annuity implies that benefits should increase with age while the lower return on social security contributions than on private saving implies that a larger fraction of total benefits should be paid during the early years of retirement. In an economy that contains a mixture of rational life cycle savers and completely myopic individuals who do no saving, it is optimal for benefits to decline during the earlier part of the retirement period and then to begin rising. Numerical calculations based on actual macroeconomic parameters and representative survival probabilities suggest that the optimal age for minimum benefits occurs before age 75.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Feldstein, 1987. "Should Social Security Benefits Increase with Age?," NBER Working Papers 2200, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2200
    Note: PE

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    Cited by:

    1. Martin Feldstein & Andrew Samwick, 1998. "The Transition Path in Privatizing Social Security," NBER Chapters,in: Privatizing Social Security, pages 215-264 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Matthew Weinzierl, 2014. "Seesaws and Social Security Benefits Indexing," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 45(2 (Fall)), pages 137-196.
    3. Mohamed Bouzahzah & Frédéric Docquier & Oliver Paddison, 2002. "Retraites, croissance et inégalités en présence d'individus myopes," Economie & Prévision, La Documentation Française, vol. 155(4), pages 31-44.
    4. Del Rey, Elena & Lopez-Garcia, Miguel-Angel, 2016. "Endogenous growth and welfare effects of education subsidies and intergenerational transfers," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 52(PB), pages 531-539.
    5. Andras Simonovits, 2017. "How did Feldstein (1985) undervalue the optimal level of social security benefits?," IEHAS Discussion Papers 1722, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
    6. Tran, Chung & Woodland, Alan, 2014. "Trade-offs in means tested pension design," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 72-93.
    7. repec:ksa:szemle:1746 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Matthew Weinzierl, 2014. "Seesaws and Social Security Benefits Indexing," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 49(2 (Fall)), pages 137-196.
    9. Sheiner, Louise, 1994. "Marginal Tax Rates and Health Care Reform," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 47(3), pages 497-517, September.

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