Research and Analysis by Michael V. Leonesio
One aspect of the current debate about changing the Social Security program concerns how new rules might affect elderly women, many of whom have low income. This paper examines three possible changes: (1) a reduction in spousal benefits combined with a change in the computation of the survivor benefit, (2) a redefined minimum benefit, and (3) a 5 percent increase in benefits for persons aged 80 or older. The paper assesses the cost, distributional consequences, and antipoverty impact of each option.
Assessing the Performance of Life-Cycle Portfolio Allocation Strategies for Retirement Saving: A Simulation Study
The investment performance of life-cycle portfolio allocation strategies is evaluated using a stochastic simulation based on historical asset returns during 1926–2008. Lifetime contribution streams to the accounts are determined using the actual earnings histories of 13,000 workers born in 1915–1942. The results are compared with those of four alternative strategies that vary in terms of investor exposure to stock and bond market risk.
During 1981–2004, long-run earnings inequality among men increased by about the same magnitude as the well-documented increase in annual earnings inequality. Although the growth in annual earnings inequality was greater for women during these years, there was very little increase in their long-run earnings inequality. This article explores the conditions that produce the divergent trends in long-run earnings.
Some proposals to change the Social Security program to ensure long-run solvency would reduce or eliminate benefits to some early retirees. To what extent might those benefit reductions cause hardship for individuals with precarious financial circumstances and whose health appears to limit their ability to offset reductions in Social Security income through increased earnings? Our research is intended to identify the size and characteristics of the population that might be at risk as a consequence of such changes.
The central finding is that over 20 percent of early Social Security retirees have health problems that substantially impair their ability to work. In fact, among those aged 62–64 who are severely impaired, there are as many Old-Age and Survivors Insurance beneficiaries as there are beneficiaries under SSA's two disability programs. The retirement program functions as a substantial, albeit unofficial, disability program for this age group. Moreover, the majority of the most severely impaired early retirees would not qualify for Disability Insurance benefits.
Policies that would reduce or eliminate Social Security benefits for early retirees could have adverse consequences for older workers in poor health. This article documents the health and financial circumstances of beneficiaries aged 62–64. It examines the extent to which poor health limits work among early retirees and assesses the extent to which curtailment of early retirement benefits might lead to increases in the Disability Insurance program rolls.
This bibliography is a by-product of preparing a review of the economic literature on the effect of Social Security's retirement program on the labor supply of older workers. In the course of organizing a set of scribbled notes, the outline of the current document began to take shape. Several colleagues found earlier, incomplete drafts of these notes to be of some value in their own work, and encouraged me to offer them to a wider audience.
These notes are intended to provide a helpful overview of the models, data sources, and statistical procedures used by economists in recent years to investigate the work-retirement decision.
This paper provides a nontechnical explanation of the basic ideas that underpin economists' thinking about work and retirement decisions and discusses and elaborates on the basic economic model of retirement. The paper begins with a simple economic model of an individual's work decision, to explain the construction and logic of this model, and to show how the model can be used to make basic predictions about factors that might plausibly affect the timing of retirement. From this starting point—which essentially describes the economic retirement models before the late 1970s—the paper then explains how the model has been extended during the past 2 decades. The increasing sophistication and complexity of the models reflect scientific progress in which new retirement research incorporates the findings of previous efforts, the desire to incorporate more realism into the models, and the availability of improved data. The progress in economic modeling is emphasized as the contributions of various influential studies are reviewed.
Concern about the economic consequences of the aging of the United States population has prompted considerable research activity during the past two decades. Economists have carefully examined retirement patterns and trends, and sought to identify and measure the determinants of the timing of retirement by older workers. Much of the published retirement research is fairly technical by nature and is somewhat inaccessible to nonspecialist audiences. This article provides a nontechnical overview of this research. In contrast to other reviews of the retirement literature, this exposition emphasizes the basic ideas and reasoning that economists use in their research. In the course of recounting how economists' views about retirement have evolved in recent years, the article highlights landmark pieces of research, points out the specific advances made by the various researchers, and assesses what has been learned along the way.
The Effects of the Social Security Earnings Test on the Labor-Market Activity of Older Americans: A Review of the Evidence
Higher labor force participation rates for people aged 62–79 are associated with a dramatic increase in the share of their total money income attributable to earnings. For persons aged 65–69, the earnings share increased from 28 percent in 1980 to 42 percent in 2009. Two decades ago, Social Security benefits and earnings were roughly equal shares of total money income (about 30 percent); the earnings share is now more than 12 percentage points larger. The marked increase in the importance of earnings as an income source is also evident throughout the 62–79 age range among Social Security beneficiaries.
In this paper we focus on the relationship between a woman's economic status earlier in life and her poverty status in old age. Previous research on the determinants of poverty among aged women has documented the socioeconomic and demographic correlates of the poor and has examined the financial impact of adverse late-life events such as widowhood, deterioration of health, and loss of employment. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women, we find that most women who experience these types of adverse events in their later years do not become poor and that a large majority of older NLSMW respondents who were poor in 1991–92 were poor earlier in their adult lives. Whether women are impoverished by adverse late-life events depends on their economic resources just prior to the event. But the financial resources available in old age, in turn, depend very much on their long-term economic status throughout much of their adult lives. This article underscores the fact that for most older women these adverse events do not appear to precipitate poverty spells—at least not within the first couple of years—and directs attention at longer-term circumstances that make some women more vulnerable.
This article focuses on the relationship between women's economic status earlier in their lives and their poverty status in old age. Previous research on the determinants of poverty among aged women has documented the socioeconomic and demographic correlates of the poor, and has examined the financial impact of adverse later-life events such as widowhood, deterioration of health, and loss of employment. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women (NLSMW), we find that most women who experience these types of adverse events in their later years do not become poor and that a large majority of older NLSMW respondents who were poor in 1991-92 were poor earlier in their adult lives. Whether women are impoverished by adverse later-life events depends on their economic resources just prior to the event. But, the financial resources available in old age, in turn, depend very much on their long-term economic status throughout much of their adult lives. This article underscores the fact that for most older women, these adverse events do not appear to precipitate poverty spells—at least not within the first couple of years—and directs attention at longer term circumstances that make some women more vulnerable to poverty.
Simulating Aggregate and Distributional Effects of Various Plans for Modifying the Retirement Earnings Test
Social Security's retirement test continues to receive considerable attention among policymakers. During the past several years a variety of proposals have been advanced that would modify or eliminate the test for persons aged 65–69. In January 1989, we completed a study report, prepared for SSA internal use, that examined several of these proposals, analyzing their effect on earnings, taxes, and benefits in the first year of implementation, assumed to be 1990. The analysis included both aggregate estimates and estimates for selected population subgroups.
Although the specific proposals for modifying the retirement test have changed somewhat during the past 2 years, continued congressional interest has prompted the release of this initial version of our research for public discussion. Because we are in the process of revising the report for final publication, readers are cautioned that numbers and interpretations contained in this paper are subject to change.
Many observers have noted that the long-term decline in labor force participation by older Americans may reflect the evolution of social institutions that effectively discourage work. Often-cited factors include employer discrimination against older workers, private pension plans that penalize continued employment, and the Social Security system. Various policies, such as eliminating Social Security's retirement test, have been proposed with a view to eliminating or lessening employment barriers.
This paper summarizes the economic evidence that addresses the role played by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) programs in retirement decisions. OASI is shown to have statistically significant effects on both the timing of retirement and the amount of post-retirement work; however, the influence is not large relative to the many other factors that determine the labor-supply decisions of older workers. Consequently, changes in Social Security policy of the type and magnitude that are politically feasible are unlikely to result in large changes in retirement behavior.