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Does the Social Security Earnings Test Affect Labor Supply and Benefits Receipt?

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  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Peter Orszag

Abstract

The Social Security earnings test, a version of which still applies to those ages 62-64, reduces immediate payments to beneficiaries whose labor income exceeds a given threshold. Although benefits are subsequently increased to compensate for any such reduction, the earnings test is typically perceived as a tax on working. As a result, it is considered by many to be an important disincentive to paid work for older Americans. Yet there is little evidence to suggest an economically significant effect of the earnings test on hours of work, and almost no research on the effect of the test on the decision to work at all. We investigate these issues using the significant changes in the structure of the earnings test over the past 25 years, using data over the past 25 years, using data over the 1973-1998 period from the March Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS), which provide large samples of observations on the elderly. Our analysis suggests two major conclusions. First, the earnings test exerts no robust influence on the labor supply decisions of men. Neither graphical analyses of breaks in labor supply trends, nor regression estimates that control for underlying trends in labor supply by age group, reveal any significant impact of changes in earnings test parameters on aggregate employment, hours of work, or earnings for men. For women, there is more suggestive evidence that the earnings test is affecting labor supply decisions. Second, loosening the earnings test appears to accelerate benefits receipt among the eligible population, lowering benefits levels, and heightening concerns about the standard of living of these elderly at very advanced ages. Our findings suggest some cause for caution before rushing to remove the earnings test at younger ages.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Gruber & Peter Orszag, 2000. "Does the Social Security Earnings Test Affect Labor Supply and Benefits Receipt?," NBER Working Papers 7923, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7923 Note: AG LS PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Baker, Michael & Benjamin, Dwayne, 1999. "How do retirement tests affect the labour supply of older men?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 27-51.
    2. Feldstein, Martin & Samwick, Andrew A., 1992. "Social Security Rules and Marginal Tax Rates," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 45(1), pages 1-22, March.
    3. Coile, Courtney & Diamond, Peter & Gruber, Jonathan & Jousten, Alain, 2002. "Delays in claiming social security benefits," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 357-385.
      • Baland, J.M. & Robinson, J.A., 1998. "Rotten Parents," Papers 207, Notre-Dame de la Paix, Sciences Economiques et Sociales.
    4. Coile, Courtney & Diamond, Peter & Gruber, Jonathan & Jousten, Alain, 2002. "Delays in claiming social security benefits," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 357-385.
    5. B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Skinner & Steven Weinberg, 2001. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth among U.S. Households?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 832-857, September.
    6. repec:hoo:wpaper:e-90-11 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Anthony J. Pellechio, 1978. "The Social Security Earnings Test, Labor Supply Distortions, and Foregone Payroll Tax Revenues," NBER Working Papers 0272, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Burkhauser, Richard V & Turner, John A, 1978. "A Time-Series Analysis on Social Security and Its Effect on the Market Work of Men at Younger Ages," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(4), pages 701-715, August.
    9. Richard Disney & Tanner, Tanner, 2000. "The abolition of the earnings rule for UK pensioners," IFS Working Papers W00/13, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    10. Thomas MaCurdy & David Green & Harry Paarsch, 1990. "Assessing Empirical Approaches for Analyzing Taxes and Labor Supply," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(3), pages 415-490.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies

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