Research & Analysis by David A. Weaver
This article provides policymakers with context for understanding past and future policy discussions regarding Social Security widow benefits. Using data from household surveys, projections from a microsimulation model, and recent research, it examines three types of benefits—those for aged widows, widows caring for children, and disabled widows.
Using the Social Security Administration's MINT (Modeling Income in the Near Term) model, this paper calculates the marginal returns to work near retirement, as measured by the increase in benefits associated with an additional year of employment at the end of an individual's work life. With exceptions for certain population subgroups, the analysis finds that marginal returns on Social Security taxes paid near retirement are generally low. The paper also tests the effects on marginal returns of a variety of potential Social Security policy changes designed to improve incentives to work.
This article examines the demographic challenge of an aging population on the U.S. Social Security system and the well-being of the elderly. It describes policy implications and some potential policy solutions to this challenge.
The publication of this article coincides with the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Social Security Act. The history and development of the Social Security program from its inception to the present is discussed. Special attention is given to historical debates that have relevance to today's policy discussions. In particular, the article discusses themes regarding program growth, pay-as-you-go financing, reserve funding, rates of return on payroll contributions, and the adequacy of benefits.
Upon a worker's death, Social Security pays benefits to each minor or disabled child and to the worker's widow(er), provided that a child of the worker is in his or her care. Although remarriage has no effect on a child's eligibility for benefits, the benefit going directly to the widow(er) terminates if he or she remarries. This paper examines the termination provision and discusses possible effects of the provision on the young widow(er) population.
The widow(er)'s limit provision of Social Security establishes caps on the benefit amounts of widow(er)s whose deceased spouse filed for early retirement benefits. Currently, 33 percent of Social Security's 8.1 million widow(er) beneficiaries have lower benefits because of that provision. This article describes the widow(er)'s limit provision and evaluates options for changing it.
The widow(er)'s limit provision of Social Security establishes caps on the benefit amounts of widow(er)s whose deceased spouse filed for early retirement benefits. Currently, 33 percent of Social Security's 8.1 million widow(er) beneficiaries have lower benefits because of that provision. This paper describes the widow(er)'s limit provision and evaluates proposed changes to it. The proposals considered range from the modest (allowing widow(er)s to receive adjustments to the capped amounts by delaying receipt of benefits) to the substantial (abolishing the widow(er)'s limit).
Military veterans constitute an important subgroup of Social Security beneficiaries. Because veterans are a large subgroup of Social Security beneficiaries and because policymakers have shown a clear interest in their well-being, it is important to understand how veterans and their dependents are currently faring. This note looks at the characteristics and trends in growth of the veteran and Social Security populations.
Although the Social Security program has substantially reduced poverty among older Americans, 17.3 percent of nonmarried elderly women (widowed, divorced, or never married) are living in poverty today. This paper explores several policy options designed to reduce poverty by enhancing Social Security widow(er)'s benefits, Supplemental Security Income benefits, and Social Security's special minimum benefit. Depending on the option, 40 percent to 58 percent of the additional federal spending would be directed to the poor or near poor.
In this paper we focus on an age restriction for remarriage in the Social Security system to determine if individuals respond to economic incentives for marriage. Aged widow(er) benefits are paid by the federal government to persons whose deceased spouses worked in Social Security covered employment. A widow(er) is eligible to receive benefits if she or he is at least age 60. If a widow(er) remarries before age 60, she or he forfeits the benefit and, therefore, faces a marriage penalty. Under current law, there is no penalty if the remarriage occurs at 60 years of age or later. The Social Security rules on remarriage have changed over time. Only since 1979 have widow(er)s been allow to marry at or after age 60 and not face reductions in benefit amounts.
We investigate whether the age-60 remarriage rule affects the timing of marriage and whether the elimination of the marriage penalty in 1979 encouraged widows 60 or older to marry. For this study, we primarily use Vital Statistics data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Our major findings are as follows. In 1979, there was an increase in the marriage rate of widows 60 or older. This suggests many widows in this age group chose not to marry until the marriage penalty they faced was removed. Also, in the post-1979 period, there was a drop in marriage rates immediately prior to age 60 and an increase after this age. We do not observe this pattern in the period before 1979, and we do not observe it for divorced women, who generally are not subject to the age-60 remarriage rule. These findings suggest that the age-60 remarriage rule affects the timing of marriage and has the most influence on women who are very close to age 60.
This article summarizes an analysis of the poverty implications of repealing the retirement earnings test (RET). Repealing the RET at the normal retirement age or older is unlikely to generate large poverty effects. Removing the test at age 62 or older, however, could lead to large increases in poverty.
The Accuracy of Survey-Reported Marital Status: Evidence from Survey Records Matched to Social Security Records
Many researchers have concluded that, in surveys, divorced persons often fail to report accurate marital information. In this paper, I revisit this issue using a new source of data—surveys exactly matched to Social Security data. I find that divorced persons frequently misreport their marital status, but there is evidence that the misreporting is unintentional. A discussion of possible improvements in surveys is presented. Implications for the study of differential mortality and the study of poverty among aged women are discussed.
The Economic Well-Being of Social Security Beneficiaries, with an Emphasis on Divorced Beneficiaries
There are numerous types of benefits paid under the Social Security programs of the United States, with each type of benefit having its own set of eligibility rules and benefit formula. It is likely that there is an association between the type of benefit a person receives and the economic circumstances of the beneficiary. This paper explores that association using records from the Current Population Survey exactly matched to administrative records from the Social Security Administration. Divorced beneficiaries are a particular focus of this paper.
Type of benefit is found to be a strong predictor of economic well-being. Two large groups of beneficiaries, retired-worker and aged married-spouse beneficiaries, are fairly well off. Other types of beneficiaries tend to resemble the overall U.S. population or are decidedly worse off. Divorced-spouse beneficiaries have an unusually high incidence of poverty and of serious health problems. A proposal to increase benefits for these beneficiaries is evaluated. Results indicate that much of the additional government expenditures would be received by those with low income.
The Economic Well-Being of Social Security Beneficiaries, with an Emphasis on Divorced Beneficiaries
There are numerous types of benefits paid under the Social Security programs of the United States, with each type of benefit having its own set of eligibility rules and benefit formula. It is likely that there is an association between the type of benefit a person receives and the economic circumstances of the beneficiary. This article explores that association using records from the Current Population Survey exactly matched to administrative records from the Social Security Administration. Divorced beneficiaries are a particular focus of this article.
Type of benefit is found to be a strong predictor of economic well-being. Two large groups of beneficiaries, retired-worker and aged married spouse beneficiaries, are fairly well-off. Other types of beneficiaries tend to resemble the overall U.S. population or are decidedly worse off. Divorced spouse beneficiaries have an unusually high incidence of poverty and an unusually high incidence of serious health problems. A proposal to increase benefits for these beneficiaries is evaluated. Results of the analyses indicate that much of the additional Government expenditures would be received by those with low income.
Between 1970 and 1983, the rate at which the elderly were hospitalized grew by over 40 percent, but the rate of hospitalization for the younger population was fairly stable. Past attempts to explain the different patterns among the young and the old have focused on technology, insurance, health status, and the supply of hospital services. These attempts have been largely unsuccessful. In this paper, I examine other possible explanations, namely, that the elderly, who experienced a decline in the rate of participation in the labor force and an increase in income over this period, used increases in available time (i.e., nonwork time) and increases in income to seek out and receive greater amounts of health care.
Using an empirical strategy that adequately controls for the health status and insurance status of the subjects under study, I analyze small area data from the state of North Carolina. This approach yields results that indicate labor force status and income are important determinants of hospital use among the elderly.
This paper reviews the economic literature on the work and retirement decisions of older women. Economic studies generally find that married women respond to the financial reward for work (for example, wages) in making their work and retirement decisions, but that they do not respond to unearned income and wealth (for example, the value of lifetime Social Security benefits). Unmarried women are found to respond to all type of financial variables. Most economic studies find that the family plays only a limited role in the work and retirement decisions of women. The retirement status of the husband does influence the wife's retirement decision, but the health status of the husband does not. The presence of dependents in the household, regardless of whether they are children or parents, is not found to influence work and retirement among women. The relevance of these results to Social Security policy is discussed.
There are a number of reasons to be cautious about the results. The literature to date is small; it is based on data that are deficient in some respects, and it contains studies that have methodological problems. These problems are discussed and prospects for future research are explored.