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The Social Security Cost of Smoking


  • John B. Shoven
  • Jeffrey O. Sundberg
  • John P. Bunker


Our paper is an examination of the Social Security cost of smoking from an individual point of view. It is well known that smokers have a shorter life expectancy than nonsmokers. This means that by smoking they are giving up potential Social Security benefits. We estimate this cost and consider the effects on the system as a whole. We use mortality ratios, which relate the annual death probabilities of smokers and nonsmokers, and the percentage of smokers in each age group to break down the life tables for men and women born in 1920 into the approximate life tables for smokers and nonsmokers. We then calculate expected Social Security taxes and benefits for each group, using median earnings as a base. We find that smoking costs men about $20,000 and women about $10,000 in expected net benefits. The implication of this for the system as a whole is that the prevalence of smoking has a direct effect on the financial viability of the system; every decrease in the number of smokers in society increases the system's liability. Changes in smoking behavior should be recognized as affecting the system.

Suggested Citation

  • John B. Shoven & Jeffrey O. Sundberg & John P. Bunker, 1987. "The Social Security Cost of Smoking," NBER Working Papers 2234, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2234
    Note: PE AG

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Jim Davies, "undated". "Empirical Evidence on Human Capital Externalities," Working Papers-Department of Finance Canada 2003-11, Department of Finance Canada.
    2. Brian S. Armour & M. Melinda Pitts, 2007. "Smoking: taxing health and Social Security," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, issue Q 3, pages 27-41.
    3. W. Kip Viscusi, 1995. "Cigarette Taxation and the Social Consequences of Smoking," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 9, pages 51-102 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Viscusi, W. Kip, 1994. "Promoting Smokers' Welfare With Responsible Taxation," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 47(3), pages 547-58, September.
    5. Bhattacharya, Jay & Lakdawalla, Darius, 2006. "Does Medicare benefit the poor?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(1-2), pages 277-292, January.

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