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Imperfect Annuity Markets, Unintended Bequests, and the Optimal Age Structure of Social Security Benefits

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  • Martin Feldstein

Abstract

The social security program now provides a constant real benefit throughout each retirees lifetime. This paper examines whether total welfare would rise if benefits were lower in early retirement years (when most individuals have some saving with which to finance consumption) and higher in later years (when the uncertainty of survival and the absence of actuarially fair private annuities makes the availability of social security benefits more important.) The analysis shows that there is a potentially important difference between the structure of benefits that would be preferred by the current population of workers and retirees and the structure of benefits that would maximize the steady state level of social welfare. This difference reflects the role of unintended bequests. The provision of higher benefits to older retirees reduces individually optimal savings and therefore the level of unintended bequests. While those bequests may have no value to the retirees, they are clearly of value to the young workers who will receive those bequests. More generally, the system of level benefits raises the steady state level of the capital stock and of total real income. The present paper provides an explicit analysis of a case in which the current workers want benefits to increase with age while the social security system that maximizes steady state welfare would provide higher benefits to young retirees than to the very old.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Feldstein, 1989. "Imperfect Annuity Markets, Unintended Bequests, and the Optimal Age Structure of Social Security Benefits," NBER Working Papers 2820, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2820
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    1. Paul A. Samuelson, 1958. "An Exact Consumption-Loan Model of Interest with or without the Social Contrivance of Money," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 467-467.
    2. Martin Feldstein, 1985. "The Optimal Level of Social Security Benefits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(2), pages 303-320.
    3. Benjamin M. Friedman & Mark Warshawsky, 1985. "Annuity Prices and Saving Behavior in the United States," NBER Working Papers 1683, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Benjamin M. Friedman & Mark Warshawsky, 1985. "The Cost of Annuities: Implications for Saving Behavior and Bequests," NBER Working Papers 1682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andras Simonovits, 2018. "The best indexation of public pensions: the point system," CERS-IE WORKING PAPERS 1815, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies.
    2. de la Croix, David & Pierrard, Olivier & Sneessens, Henri R., 2013. "Aging and pensions in general equilibrium: Labor market imperfections matter," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 104-124.
    3. John Sabelhaus & Julie Topoleski, 2006. "Uncertain Policy for an Uncertain World: The Case of Social Security: Working Paper 2006-05," Working Papers 17664, Congressional Budget Office.
    4. 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.
    5. Schrã–Der, Carsten, 2012. "Profitability of pension contributions – evidence from real-life employment biographies," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(3), pages 311-336, July.
    6. András Simonovits, 2020. "Indexing Public Pensions in Progress to Wages or Prices," Central European Journal of Economic Modelling and Econometrics, Central European Journal of Economic Modelling and Econometrics, vol. 12(2), pages 171-194, June.
    7. Sinn, Hans-Werner, 2004. "The pay-as-you-go pension system as fertility insurance and an enforcement device," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1335-1357, July.
    8. Alexander M. Gelber & Damon Jones & Daniel W. Sacks & Jae Song, 2020. "The Employment Effects of the Social Security Earnings Test," NBER Working Papers 26696, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. de la Croix, David & Pierrard, Olivier & Sneessens, Henri R., 2013. "Aging and pensions in general equilibrium: Labor market imperfections matter," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 104-124.
    10. Andras Simonovits, 2020. "Indexing public pensions in progress to wages or prices," CERS-IE WORKING PAPERS 2015, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies.
    11. Sven H. Sinclair & Kent A. Smetters, 2004. "Health Shocks and the Demand for Annuities: Technical Paper 2004-09," Working Papers 15868, Congressional Budget Office.
    12. Alan D. Viard, 2007. "The Welfare Effects Of Pay‐As‐You‐Go Retirement Programs: The Role Of Tax And Benefit Timing," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 25(2), pages 282-292, April.
    13. Andras Simonovits, 2018. "Designing pension benefits when longevities increase with wages," CERS-IE WORKING PAPERS 1804, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies.
    14. John Sabelhaus & Julie Topoleski, 2007. "Uncertain policy for an uncertain world: The case of social security," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(3), pages 507-525.
    15. Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324, Elsevier.
    16. Torben M. Andersen & Joydeep Bhattacharya & Qing Liu, 2020. "Reference-Dependent Preferences, Time Inconsistency, and Unfunded Pensions," CESifo Working Paper Series 8260, CESifo.
    17. Zhang, Jie & Zhang, Junsen & Lee, Ronald, 2003. "Rising longevity, education, savings, and growth," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 83-101, February.
    18. Simonovits, András, 2018. "Hogyan tervezzük a nyugdíjjáradék-függvényt, ha a halandóság a kereset csökkenő függvénye? [Designing pension-benefit schedules when longevities increase with wages]," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(7), pages 831-846.

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