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The Distributional Effects of an Investment-Based Social Security System

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  • Martin Feldstein
  • Jeffrey Liebman

Abstract

In this paper we study the distributional impact of a change from the existing pay-as-you-go Social Security system to one that combines both pay-as-you-go and investment-based elements. Critics of investment-based plans have been concerned that such plans might reduce the retirement income of low-paid workers or of surviving spouses relative to what they would get from Social Security, and might therefore increase the extent of poverty among the aged. Our analysis in this paper shows that this is generally not the case, even in plans that make no special effort to maintain or increase redistribution. Our principal finding is that virtually all of the demographic groups that we examine would receive higher average benefits under a mixed system with an investment-based component than the benefits that they would receive under current Social Security rules. There would also be a smaller share of individuals with benefits below the poverty line even though the total cost of funding the mixed system -- a three percent saving contribution rather than a six percent rise in the tax rate -- is substantially lower than that of funding the pay-as-you-go system. Our individual-level data permit us to go beyond comparing group means to analyze the full distribution of the benefits that individuals would receive under the two different systems. These comparisons show that the overwhelming majority of individuals would have higher benefits with the investment-based system than with the pure pay-as-you-go system. The relatively small number of individuals who would receive less from the investment-based system is further reduced when the effects of the Supplementary Security Income program is taken into account. These basic conclusions remain true even if the future rate of return in the investment-based component of the mixed system is substantially less than past experience implies.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Feldstein & Jeffrey Liebman, 2000. "The Distributional Effects of an Investment-Based Social Security System," NBER Working Papers 7492, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7492
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Jeffrey R. Brown & Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton, 2009. "Is Social Security Part of the Social Safety Net?," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 23, pages 37-72, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2002. "Redistribution in the Current U.S. Social Security System," NBER Chapters, in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 11-48, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Aruoba, S. Boragan & Fernandez-Villaverde, Jesus & Rubio-Ramirez, Juan F., 2006. "Comparing solution methods for dynamic equilibrium economies," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 30(12), pages 2477-2508, December.
    4. Arza, Camila, 2008. "The Limits of Pension Privatization: Lessons from Argentine Experience," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(12), pages 2696-2712, December.
    5. Lyon, Andrew B. & Stell, John L., 2000. "Analysis of Current Social Security Reform Proposals," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 53(n. 3), pages 473-514, September.
    6. Jeffrey R. Brown, 2003. "Redistribution and Insurance: Mandatory Annuitization With Mortality Heterogeneity," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 70(1), pages 17-41, March.
    7. John Geanakoplos & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2009. "Reforming Social Security with Progressive Personal Accounts," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 73-121, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. 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.
    9. Dennis Fredriksen & Nils Martin Stølen, 2005. "Effects of demographic development, labour supply and pension reforms on the future pension burden," Discussion Papers 418, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    10. Casarico, Alessandra & Devillanova, Carlo, 2008. "Capital-skill complementarity and the redistributive effects of Social Security Reform," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 672-683, April.
    11. Afonso, Luís Eduardo & Fernandes, Reynaldo, 2005. "Uma Estimativa dos Aspectos Distributivos da Previdência Social no Brasil," Revista Brasileira de Economia - RBE, EPGE Brazilian School of Economics and Finance - FGV EPGE (Brazil), vol. 59(3), July.
    12. Jimeno, Juan F. & Rojas, Juan A. & Puente, Sergio, 2008. "Modelling the impact of aging on social security expenditures," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 201-224, March.
    13. Binswanger, Johannes, 2007. "Risk management of pensions from the perspective of loss aversion," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(3-4), pages 641-667, April.
    14. Ahmed, Javed & Barber, Brad M. & Odean, Terrance, 2018. "Made poorer by choice: Worker outcomes in social security vs. private retirement accounts," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 311-322.
    15. Juan F. Jimeno, "undated". "Incentivos y desigualdad en el sistema español de pensiones contributivas de jubilación," Working Papers 2002-13, FEDEA.
    16. Martin Feldstein, 2005. "Structural Reform of Social Security," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 33-55, Spring.
    17. Pfau, Wade Donald, 2007. "Reforming Social Security: Issues and Challenges for Personal Retirement Accounts," MPRA Paper 19034, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    18. Louis Kaplow, 2011. "Targeted savings and labor supply," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 18(5), pages 507-518, October.
    19. Andrew Coleman, 2014. "The growth, equity, and risk implications of different retirement income policies," New Zealand Economic Papers, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 48(2), pages 226-239, August.
    20. Douglas W. Elmendorf & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2000. "Social Security Reform and National Saving in an Era of Budget Surpluses," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 31(2), pages 1-72.
    21. Douglas W. Elmendorf & Jeffrey B. Liebman & David W. Wilcox, 2001. "Fiscal Policy and Social Security Policy During the 1990s," NBER Working Papers 8488, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty

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