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Social Security and Elderly Living Arrangements

  • Gary V. Engelhardt
  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Cynthia D. Perry

One of the most important economic decisions facing the elderly, and their families, is whether to live independently. A number of previous studies suggest that widows are fairly responsive to Social Security benefits in deciding whether to live independently. But these previous studies have either generally relied on differences in benefits across families or cohorts, which are potentially correlated with other determinants of living arrangements, or have used data from the distant past. We propose a new approach that relies on the large exogenous shifts in benefits generosity for cohorts born in the 1910-1921 period, and we study the impact of this change in living arrangements in the 1980s and 1990s. In this period, benefits rose quickly, due to double-indexing of the benefit formula, and then fell dramatically, as this double-indexing was corrected over a five-year period. Using these legislative changes in benefits that the living arrangements of widows are much more sensitive to Social Security income than implied by previous studies. We also find that the living arrangements of divorcees, the fastest growing group of elderly, are even more sensitive to benefit levels. Overall, our findings suggest that living arrangements are elastically demanded by non-married elderly, privacy is a normal good, and that reductions in Social Security benefits would significantly alter the living arrangements of the elderly. Our estimates imply that a 10% cut in Social Security benefits would lead more than 600,000 independent elderly households to move into shared living arrangements.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8911.

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Date of creation: Apr 2002
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Publication status: published as Engelhardt, Gary V., Jonathan Gruber and Cynthia D. Perry. "Social Security and Elderly Living Arrangements," Journal of Human Resources, 2005, v40(2,Spring), 354-372.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8911
Note: AG PE
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  1. Kathleen Mcgarry & Robert Schoeni, 2000. "Social security, economic growth, and the rise in elderly widows’ independence in the twentieth century," Demography, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 221-236, May.
  2. Marianne P. Bitler & Jonah B. Gelbach & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2002. "The Impact of Welfare Reform on Living Arrangements," NBER Working Papers 8784, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Diamond, Peter & Koszegi, Botond, 2003. "Quasi-hyperbolic discounting and retirement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(9-10), pages 1839-1872, September.
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  5. Dora L. Costa, 1998. "The Evolution of Retirement," NBER Chapters, in: The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990, pages 6-31 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Dora L. Costa, 1996. "Displacing the Family: Union Army Pensions and Elderly Living Arrange- ments," NBER Working Papers 5429, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Axel Borsch-Supan & Vassilis Hajivassiliou & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & John N. Morris, 1990. "Health, Children, and Elderly Living Arrangements: A Multiperiod-Multinomial Probit Model with Unobserved Heterogeneity and Autocorrelated Errors," NBER Working Papers 3343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Krueger, Alan B & Pischke, Jorn-Steffen, 1992. "The Effect of Social Security on Labor Supply: A Cohort Analysis of the Notch Generation," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 10(4), pages 412-37, October.
  9. Douglas Wolf & Beth Soldo, 1988. "Household composition choices of older unmarried women," Demography, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 387-403, August.
  10. Ellen Kramarow, 1995. "The elderly who live alone in the united states: Historical perspectives on household change," Demography, Springer, vol. 32(3), pages 335-352, August.
  11. 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.
  12. Diane Macunovich & Richard Easterlin & Christine Schaeffer & Eileen Crimmins, 1995. "Echoes of the baby boom and bust: Recent and prospective changes in living alone among elderly widows in the united states," Demography, Springer, vol. 32(1), pages 17-28, February.
  13. Robert Michael & Victor Fuchs & Sharon Scott, 1980. "changes in the propensity to live alone: 1950–1976," Demography, Springer, vol. 17(1), pages 39-56, February.
  14. Frances Kobrin, 1976. "The fall in household size and the rise of the primary individual in the United States," Demography, Springer, vol. 13(1), pages 127-138, February.
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