"Mortality Differentials by Lifetime Earnings Decile: Implications for Evaluations of Proposed Social Security Law Changes"
Social Security Bulletin 73(1): 1-37, 2013
To evaluate the distributional effects of some proposed Social Security law changes, such as an increase in Social Security's early entitlement age, retirement policy analysts typically tabulate the number of workers who fall below a predetermined threshold of hardship. Analysts using this technique often implicitly assume that the insured population falls neatly into a low-earnings poor health group and a remaining good health group. If the hardship threshold assumption is correct, there should be no difference in mortality risk between lifetime earnings deciles above a hardship threshold. This study finds that the hardship threshold model is overwhelmingly rejected in US Social Security data, a result consistent with similar studies conducted in Canada, Germany, and England. The bottom 80-95 percent of the male lifetime earnings distribution exhibits an inverse correlation with regard to mortality risk (the higher the earnings, the lower the mortality risk) at ages 63-71.