Friday, December 28, 2018

New papers from the NBER

Social Security Incentives in Belgium: An Analysis of Four Decades of Change
Anne-Lore Fraikin, Alain Jousten, and Mathieu Lefebvre #25375
The paper traces labor market reforms over the last four decades. It provides estimates of retirement incentives for a selected set of typical worker profiles across time and socioeconomic groups and links these series to the labor market performance in Belgium. The results show that the numerous retirement and social security program reforms have had a marked impact on incentives at the micro level. At the aggregate level, results are less clear-cut given the extreme diversity of programs and features in the Belgian institutional context.

Social Security Reforms and the Changing Retirement Behavior in Sweden
Mårten Palme and Lisa Laun #25394
We show how the economic incentives to remain in the labor force induced by Sweden’s public old-age pension system and disability insurance program have changed between 1980 and 2015. Based on earnings histories for different hypothetical individuals corresponding to groups by gender and educational attainments we calculate the following measures: the replacement rate (RR), the social security wealth (SSW), the accrual in the social security wealth from working one additional year as well as the implicit tax rate on working longer (ITAX). We then investigate to what extent the observed changes in these measures concur with changes in employment rates among older workers.

Read more!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 4

Social Security Totalization Agreements

by Brent W. Jackson and Scott Cash

Since the 1970s, U.S. negotiators have concluded bilateral agreements with 28 important trading partners to coordinate social security coverage and benefit provisions for individuals who live and work in more than one country in their working lives. Known as “totalization agreements,” they are similar in function and structure to treaties and are legally classified as congressional-executive agreements concluded pursuant to statute. The agreements have three main purposes: to eliminate double taxation on earnings, to provide benefit protections for workers who have divided their careers between the United States and another country, and to permit unrestricted payment of benefits to residents of the two countries. This article briefly describes totalization agreements, relates their history, and considers proposals to modernize and enhance them.

When Every Dollar Counts: Comparing Reported Earnings of Social Security Disability Program Beneficiaries in Survey and Administrative Records

by David C. Wittenburg, Jeffrey Hemmeter, Holly Matulewicz, Lindsay Glassman, and Lisa Schwartz

This article examines differences between survey- and administrative data–based estimates of employment and earnings for a sample of Social Security Administration (SSA) disability program beneficiaries. The analysis uses linked records from SSA's National Beneficiary Survey and administrative data from the agency's Master Earnings File. The authors find that estimated employment rates and earnings levels based on administrative data are higher than those based on survey data for beneficiaries overall and by sociodemographic subgroup. In proportional terms, the differences between survey and administrative data tend to be greater among subgroups with survey-reported employment rates that are lower than that of beneficiaries overall.

Social Security Administration Payments to State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies for Disability Program Beneficiaries Who Work: Evidence from Linked Administrative Data

by Jody Schimmel Hyde and Paul O'Leary

This article's authors use linked administrative data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration to evaluate SSA's investment in services provided by the federal-state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. A unique data resource permits a comparison of the value of SSA payments to state VRagencies for services provided to disability program beneficiaries who find and maintain a substantial level of work with the value of the cash benefits those beneficiaries forgo because of work. The authors find that the value of cash benefits forgone by beneficiaries after applying for VR services is substantially greater than the value of SSA payments to state VR agencies for those services, although the portion of the difference that is attributable to VR services cannot be determined.

Read more!

New papers from the NBER

The Effect of Economic Conditions on the Disability Insurance Program: Evidence from the Great Recession
Nicole Maestas, Kathleen J. Mullen, and Alexander Strand #25338
We examine the effect of cyclical job displacement during the Great Recession on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. Exploiting variation in the severity and timing of the recession across states, we estimate the effect of unemployment on SSDI applications and awards. We find the Great Recession induced nearly one million SSDI applications that otherwise would not have been filed, of which 41.8 percent were awarded benefits, resulting in over 400,000 new beneficiaries who made up 8.9 percent of all SSDI entrants between 2008-2012. More than one-half of the recession-induced awards were made on appeal. The induced applicants had less severe impairments than the average applicant. Only 9 percent had the most severe, automatically-qualifying impairments, 33 percent had functional impairments and no transferable skills, and the rest were denied for having insufficiently severe impairments and/or transferable skills. Our estimates imply the Great Recession in! creased claims processing costs by $2.960 billion during 2008-2012, and SSDI benefit obligations by $55.730 billion in present value, or $97.365 billion including both SSDI and Medicare benefits.

Annuity Pricing in Public Pension Plans: Importance of Interest Rates
Nino Abashidze, Robert L. Clark, Beth Ritter, and David Vanderweide #25343
There is little systematic information on the distribution options in public sector retirement plans and how annuity options are priced relative to the standard single life annuity. This study examines the distribution options of 85 large public retirement plans covering general state employees, teachers, and local government employees. An important component of the analysis is the construction of a data set presenting the annuity options offered by each of these plans and how the monthly benefits for these distribution options are priced. The analysis shows that interest rates used to price annuities vary considerably across the plans. As a result, retirees with the same monthly benefit if a single life benefit is chosen will have substantially different monthly benefits if they select the joint and survivor annuity offered by their retirement plan.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Agenda for December 14th Technical Panel Meeting

2019 Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods
Meeting Agenda

Friday, December 14th, 2018

The meeting will be held in the offices of the Social Security Advisory Board:
400 Virginia Avenue SW, Suite 625, Washington DC 20024

11:00am-12:30pm Mortality rate assumptions and methods
Gerard Anderson, Professor of Health Policy and Management and
Professor of International Health, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg
School Public Health
David Cutler, Harvard College Professor, Otto Eckstein Professor of
Applied Economics, Harvard University
Greig Woodring, retired CEO, Reinsurance Group of America
Office of the Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration

12:30pm-1:00pm Lunch break

1:00pm-2:00pm Mortality rate assumptions and methods (continued)

2:00pm-5:00pm Disability assumptions and methods
Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy Kennedy
School of Government, Harvard University
Jeffrey L. Schuh, Vice President and Actuary, US Group Reinsurance,
Reinsurance Group of America
Richard Leavitt, Senior Vice President Actuarial, Smith Group
Office of the Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration

Attendees who require a reasonable accommodation,
please call 202-475-7700 at least three days before the meeting date.

For more information on the 2019 Technical Panel, click here.

Read more!

Monday, November 19, 2018

New papers from the NBER

A Lifetime of Changes: State Pensions and Work Incentives at Older Ages in the UK, 1948-2018
James Banks and Carl Emmerson #25261
We describe the history of state pension policy in the UK since 1948 and calculate summary measures of the generosity of the system over time and the degree to which the it created implicit taxes on, or subsidies to, work at older ages. The time series of these measures, calculated separately for ’example-type’ individuals of different birth cohorts, education and sexes, are then related to the time-series of employment rates at older ages for the equivalent types of individual. The generosity of the system rose over the period as whole but has fallen in recent years, and in contrast to many countries there were generally never large implicit taxes on work arising from the state pension system. What implicit subsidies there were in the years immediately before the State Pension Age have been gradually eliminated and the system is now broadly neutral with regard to work incentives. Exploiting variation in pension wealth and work incentives across different cohort-educatio! n-sex groups, created by the timing and phasing of pension reforms, we show that both pension wealth and the implicit work disincentives in the pension system are correlated with employment outcomes for men, with the expected negative sign.

Social Security Programs and Retirement Around the World: Reforms and Retirement Incentives – Introduction and Summary
Axel H. Börsch-Supan and Courtney Coile #25280
This is the introduction and summary to the ninth phase of an ongoing project on Social Security Programs and Retirement Around the World. This project, which compares the experiences of a dozen developed countries, was launched in the mid 1990s, following decades of decline in the labor force participation rate of older men. The first several phases of the project document that social security program provisions can create powerful incentives for retirement that are strongly correlated with the labor force behavior of older workers. Subsequent phases have explored how disability program provisions affect retirement, whether there is a link between older employment and youth unemployment, and whether older individuals are healthy enough to work longer. In the two decades since the project began, the dramatic decline in men’s labor force participation has been replaced by sharply rising participation rates. Older women’s participation has increased dramatically as well. Over this same period, countries have undertaken numerous reforms of their social security programs, disability programs, and other public benefit programs available to older workers. In this ninth phase of the project, we explore how the financial incentive to work at older ages has evolved from 1980 to the present. We highlight the important role of reforms in these changing incentives and examine how changing incentives may have affected retirement behavior.

The Evolution of Retirement Incentives in the U.S.
Courtney Coile #25281
Employment rates of older men and women in the U.S. have been rising for the past several decades. Over the same period, there have been significant changes in Social Security and private pensions, which may have contributed to this trend. In this study, we examine how the financial incentive to work at older ages has evolved since 1980 as a result of changes in Social Security and private pensions. We find that the implicit tax on work after age 65 has dropped by about 15 percentage points for a typical worker as a result of Social Security reforms; incorporating the change in private pensions, the decline is larger. We provide suggestive evidence that the evolution of retirement incentives has affected retirement behavior.

Read more!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New papers from the National Bureau of Economic Research

Social Security Programs and the Elderly Employment in Japan
by Takashi Oshio, Akiko S. Oishi, Satoshi Shimizutani  -  #25243 (AG)

We examine how the change in the trend of the elderly's
employment rates has been associated with changes in incentives
of social security and its related programs in Japan since the
1980s.  We compute the tax force to retire early, using the
institutional parameters and synthetic earnings profiles, and
juxtapose the tax force measures and the elderly employment rates
during 1980 and 2016.  Our results suggest that a reduction in
the tax force to retire early due to a series of social security
reforms has been associated with the recent recovery of the
employment rates for men aged 60 years and over as well as the
increasing upward trend in the employment rates for women aged
55-64 years.

Social Security Programs and Employment at Older Ages in the Netherlands, by Klaas de Vos, Arie Kapteyn, Adriaan Kalwij  -  #25250 (AG)

There have been a vast number of social security reforms aimed at
increasing employment at older ages over the last two decades in
the Netherlands.  These reforms mainly lead to more stringent
eligibility criteria for, and reduced generosity of, social
security programs.  Our empirical evidence suggests that these
reforms are likely to have contributed to individuals working
longer, but it is difficult to pinpoint which reforms have been
most effective.  Furthermore, we show that the recent increase in
the state pension eligibility age is likely to further increase
employment at older ages.

Saving Regret, by Axel H. Boersch-Supan, Tabea Bucher-Koenen, Michael D. Hurd, Susann Rohwedder  -  #25238 (AG LS)

We define saving regret as the wish in hindsight to have saved
more earlier in life.  We measured saving regret and possible
determinants in a survey of a probability sample of those aged
60-79.  We investigate two main causes of saving regret:
procrastination along with other psychological traits, and the
role of shocks, both positive and negative.  We find high levels
of saving regret but relatively little of the variation is
explained by procrastination and psychological factors.  Shocks
such as unemployment, health and divorce explain much more of the
variation.  The results have important implications for
retirement saving policies.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Social Security Advisory Board Announces 2019 Technical Panel

Social Security Advisory Board Announces 2019 Technical Panel

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has appointed an independent, expert panel to review the assumptions and methods used to develop the annual report of the Social Security Trustees on the financial status of the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance trust funds. This 2019 Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods is the sixth quadrennial panel the board has commissioned since 1999.

Policymakers and the public rely on the financial projections made by the Office of the Chief Actuary and published in the Trustees Report to understand the financial soundness of Social Security’s vital programs. The Panel will provide an independent assessment of the information used by the Trustees, the Chief Actuary, and program administrators to evaluate the program’s financial status.

To that end, the Panel, which consists of prominent actuaries, economists, and demographers, will analyze how economic and demographic trends will affect Social Security’s long-term solvency. The Panel will meet beginning in the fall of 2018, through the summer of 2019, at the SSAB office at 400 Virginia Ave. SW, Suite 625, Washington, DC. The Panel will issue a final report of its findings by September 2019. Additional information about the Technical Panel and upcoming meetings can be accessed at the Panel’s public information web page.

The 2019 Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods is chaired by Robert M. Beuerlein, who has more than 40 years of experience in the life insurance industry working with the product and financial analysis of life, disability, and retirement insurance. He is a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, a member of the American Academy of Actuaries, and a Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst. Mr. Beuerlein is a past president of the American Academy of Actuaries (2017) and the Society of Actuaries (2006).

The other members of the Panel include:

Ron Gebhardtsbauer, fellow of the Society of Actuaries, member of the American Academy of Actuaries, and professor emeritus in the Actuarial Science Program, Penn State University

Alexander Gelber, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Economics and School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego

Joshua Goldstein, Ph.D., Chancellor’s Professor of Demography, University of California, Berkeley

Patricia L. (Tricia) Guinn, interim chief risk officer, Willis Towers Watson; fellow of the Society of Actuaries; member of the American Academy of Actuaries; Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst; and previously managing director, Risk and Financial Services, Towers Watson

Kathleen Mullen, Ph.D., senior economist, RAND Corporation; director, RAND Center for Disability Research; and associate director, RAND Economics, Sociology and Statistics Department

Louise Sheiner, Ph.D., Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow in Economic Studies, Brookings Institution, and policy director, Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy

Sita Nataraj Slavov, Ph.D., professor of public policy and director of the public policy Ph.D. program, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

Kent Smetters, Ph.D., Boettner Chair Professor, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and Faculty Research Fellow, National Bureau of Economic Research

Tom Terry, fellow of the Society of Actuaries, member of the American Academy of Actuaries, fellow of the Conference of Consulting Actuaries, Enrolled Actuary, past president of the American Academy of Actuaries (2014) and the International Actuarial Association (2017); and CEO of the Terry Group, a healthcare, insurance and retirement consulting firm

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Retirement research funding opportunity: 2019 Sandell Grant and Dissertation Fellowship

Announcing the 2019 Sandell Grant and Dissertation Fellowship Programs

Sandell Grant Program

  • Sandell Grants provide the opportunity for junior or non-tenured scholars to pursue research on retirement or disability policy.  The program is open to scholars in all disciplines.
  • Up to three grants of $45,000 will be awarded for one-year projects.
  • Proposal guidelines are available online.

Dissertation Fellowship Program

  • Dissertation Fellowships support doctoral candidates studying retirement or disability policy.  The program is open to scholars in all disciplines.
  • Up to three fellowships of $28,000 will be awarded.
  • Proposal guidelines are available online.

The submission deadline for both programs is January 31, 2019.

The Sandell Grant and Dissertation Fellowship Programs
are funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
258 Hammond Street, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
(617) 552-1762 | fax: (617) 552-0191 |

Read more!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Savings and Retirement Foundation, November 1

Join us the afternoon of Thursday, November 1, 2018

For a Lunch Meeting with Guest Speaker:

John Topoleski
Specialist, Income Security
Congressional Research Service
Who will talk about his paper:
Policy Options for Multiemployer Defined Benefit Pension Plans
November 1, 2018

Noon-1:00 p.m.
DC Office of Indiana University
1455 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Suite 1125
Washington, DC 20004
(Lunch will be provided)

John is a Specialist in Income Security with the Congressional Research Service.  He covers a variety of private-sector pensions and retirement issues, as well as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and state and local government pension plans.  Before working at CRS, he was a visiting professor of Economics at the University of Toronto.  He received his PhD. in Economics from the University of New Orleans in 2005.


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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Expand Social Security…by Delaying Retirement

Writing for MarketWatch, Brenton Smith points that that early retirement can cause huge cuts in Americans’ Social Security benefits, far larger than an proposals to expand Social Security would fix.

The harsh reality is our benefit levels today reflect decisions that current seniors made decades ago. While we hear a lot today about the benefits of delaying the first check from Social Security until the age of 70, well over half of the retirees in the 1990s elected to take the money at 62. These people are now in their mid-80s and collecting only 80% of their full monthly benefit.

More troubling is the fact that this impact will get worse as the discount for early retirement rises. In 2010, nearly 80% of retirees claimed benefits before full retirement. Someone retiring at 62 today will get checks that are 26.3% smaller. Soon enough, people who choose to at 62 will receive benefit checks that are 30% smaller, as the normal retirement age increases to 67. (You get a bonus if you wait past your retirement age.)

If benefit checks are insufficient to keep seniors from falling into poverty-ridden old-age, we need to look at the rules of early retirement and their curious incentives designed to create the low benefit levels in later years.

Click here to read the whole article.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

CBO Posts Social Security Background Data

Each year, the CBO produces updated Social Security financing projections as part of its Long Term Budget Outlook. Following on from that, the CBO usually produces a second document with additional background information on Social Security alone. This year, CBO skipped the document part and just produced the data used for it, which makes sense since most of that background document is simply charts and tables. Below I’ll just highlight some of the data that spoke to me, but there’s a lot of useful information there for the wonk set.

To start, CBO projects a more pessimistic future for Social Security than do the Social Security Trustees. Over 75-years, the Trustees project an ‘actuarial deficit’ of 2.84% of taxable wages. That means that an immediate and permanent increase of the 12.4% payroll tax to 15.24% would be sufficient to keep the trust funds solvent for 75 years, though not longer. CBO, by contrast, projects a shortfall of 4.44% of payroll; that implies an increase in the payroll tax rate to 16.84%. Not someday, but immediately. Or, if we delay, even bigger increases. Or, alternately, significant benefit reductions.


On that front, this chart shows how much benefits would need to be cut to restore 75-year solvency, based on when the cuts were made and who they applied to. If we cut benefits across the board today, a 27% reduction would suffice to keep Social Security solvent. But if we wait until 2031, we’d need a 31% cut. Alternately, if we cut benefit only for new beneficiaries, to exempt current retirees and the disabled, cuts would vary between 33 and 43%.


This chart shows my preferred measure of benefit adequacy, which is the initial benefit as a percentage of inflation-adjusted career-average earnings. Knowing the current adequacy of benefits for different earner types gives us an idea of how much we could reduce benefits, and for who, without fatally undermining Social Security’s social insurance goals. These figures don’t include auxiliary (spousal) benefits, and they’re calculated net of income taxes levied on retirement benefits (this affects mostly upper earners today, but will hit middle- and upper-income retirees in the future). For middle earners, the average replacement rate declines from 60% for individuals born in the 1940s to 57% for those born in the 2000s. For low earners replacement rates are on the mid-90s throughout, which (IMO) explains many low earners don’t save much for retirement. For high earners replacement rates fall from the high to the mid-30s. While they clearly need to save, by these measures Social Security could cover roughly half an adequate retirement income even for he richest fifth of retirees.


My takeaways:

  • The long-term Social Security shortfall could well be more than we think; anyone who claims it’s a “modest” problem needs to look at CBO’s numbers.
  • No single approach is likely to be politically palatable; the tax increases or benefit cuts alone just won’t fly with Congress or voters. So in practice we’ll need a package that maybe – maybe! – they’ll accept.
  • If we think today’s choices are hard, waiting only makes the choices harder. Congress, being about as present-minded as a 5-year old, usually prefers to kick the can down the road.
  • Finally, Social Security benefits – particularly for the bottom 40% of the population – go a lot further toward providing an adequate retirement income than many people think. There’s room to trim, particularly for middle and high earners, without causing a retirement crisis.
Read more!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Job opening, Funding Our Future Campaign

Campaign Manager, Funding Our Future Campaign

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Bipartisan Policy Center is a non-profit organization that combines the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans. BPC drives principled and politically viable policy solutions through the power of rigorous analysis, painstaking negotiation, and aggressive advocacy.

As a leading Washington, DC-based think tank that actively promotes bipartisanship, BC works to address the key challenges facing the nation. Our policy solutions are the product of informed deliberations with former elected and appointed officials, business and labor leaders, and academics and advocates who possess views from across the political spectrum. We are currently focused on policy issues related to health, energy, national and homeland security, the economy, education, immigration, infrastructure, and governance.

In 2016, EPP released the final report of its Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings, a two-year effort co-chaired by former Senator Kent Conrad and the Honorable James B. Lockhart III, former Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The 19-member commission reached consensus on a comprehensive package of bipartisan recommendations aimed at: increasing access to workplace retirement savings plans, improving financial capability, strengthening Social Security and making it sustainable, and facilitating lifetime-income options to protect against outliving savings.

As part of continuing its work on retirement policy, BPC is currently seeking a Campaign Manager to support the Funding Our Future campaign as part of BPC’s Economic Policy Project (EPP). Funding Our Future was launched early this year by the Bipartisan Policy Center and financial advisor Ric Edelman to raise the profile of challenges facing the American retirement system and to strengthen people’s ability to retire securely in America by improving public policy. The campaign is now made up of a diverse set of more than 30 partner organizations, each with a deep expertise in retirement policy. These partners are combining their voices to strengthen retirement policy in three key areas:

  • Make saving easier for all ages
  • Help people transform their nest egg into a lifetime of income
  • Save Social Security

The position of Funding Our Future Campaign Manager is a versatile one and involves a variety of tasks, often simultaneously. The manager will be responsible for executing the day-to-day activities of the Funding Our Future campaign, including coordinating with the campaign’s partners, working closely with other BPC staff to develop content for the campaign, and ensuring that the campaign is effectively achieving its goals. The position will report to the director of economic policy and work closely with others on BPC’s economic policy team.

Specifically, the manager will have the following responsibilities:

  • Coordinate day-to-day campaign activities and workflow, including organizing and executing events, managing and contributing to development of the campaign website and other research content, and coordinating with campaign partners
  • Manage the campaign’s social media accounts and identify ways to increase the scope and quality of the campaign’s media presence
  • Coordinate integration of the campaign with BPC Action and BPC functional areas including development, operations, and communications teams
  • Conduct research into specific issue areas related to retirement security and policy
  • Manage planning, coordination, and execution of local public and private external stakeholder meetings and events
  • Provide administrative support by scheduling meetings with BPC staff, campaign leadership, consultants, and external organizations; arranging travel and accommodations for project members and meeting attendees; planning logistics for project-related meetings; and managing reimbursements
  • Prepare agendas for, attend, and take and circulate notes on all campaign meetings
  • Draft external communications, advocacy, and development documents
  • Represent the campaign at select external meetings/events, including congressional briefings, conferences, stakeholder roundtables, and other events as needed

Periodically, opportunities will arise to contribute to new or expanding projects in other policy or functional areas.

  • Computer skills required. Experience with and knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite
  • Attention to detail a must, including the ability to quickly and accurately proofread project documents
  • Ability to communicate effectively in oral and written forms is essential
  • Strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills
  • Ability to multi-task and effectively prioritize competing deadlines in a fast-paced environment
  • Works well independently and as part of a team
  • Event planning and coordination experience
  • Knowledge and interest in retirement policy, experience conducting policy research, and experience in project management a plus
  • Applicant must minimally have completed a four-year undergraduate degree. At least three years of work experience (or a graduate degree and some work experience) is strongly preferred.

BPC offers a highly competitive salary and provides generous benefits. Individuals interested in this position should send a resume, cover letter, writing sample, transcript (if a recent graduate), and references to Please include the title of this job, Campaign Manager, Funding Our Future, in the subject line of the application email.

Read more!

Monday, August 20, 2018

New issue of Social Security Bulletin Released

Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 3

(released August 2018)
by Joelle Saad-Lessler, Teresa Ghilarducci, and Gayle L. Reznik
Changes in accumulated retirement savings, particularly in employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) plan balances, differ by worker earnings levels. Earnings shocks, portfolio diversification, and employer contributions to workers’ DC plans affect retirement savings for lower earners more than for higher earners. The authors match Survey of Income and Program Participation data to Social Security Administration earnings records and find factors underlying the different retirement savings outcomes by earnings level beyond mere differences in earnings.
by Thomas M. Fraker, Joyanne Cobb, Jeffrey Hemmeter, Richard G. Luecking, and Arif Mamun
This article summarizes findings from randomized controlled trials of six Youth Transition Demonstration projects that were funded by the Social Security Administration. The projects provided specialized employment-focused services and enhanced disability program work incentives for youths aged 14–25 with disabilities. Three of the projects had positive and statistically significant effects on employment rates in the third year after youths enrolled in project evaluations.
by Joyanne Cobb, David C. Wittenburg, and Cara Stepanczuk
The Social Security Administration funded the West Virginia Youth Works intervention as part of the Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) to improve the employment and independent-living outcomes of youths with disabilities. This project was one of six that constituted the full YTD evaluation. This article examines Youth Works implementation and outcomes to provide a potential case study for other states interested in expanding services to youths with disabilities.
Read more!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

SSA Job Opening: Deputy Chief Actuary, Short-Range

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for an executive to serve in a leadership role within its Office of the Chief Actuary (OCACT) as the Deputy Chief Actuary for Short-Range Actuarial Estimates.  The complete vacancy announcement can be found on USAJOBS at SSA-EX-504.  The Deputy Chief Actuary will report directly to the Chief Actuary in Woodlawn, MD. The vacancy is open now through September 4, 2018.

The OCACT has agency-wide responsibility for:

  • Actuarial estimates for SSA programs and projected changes;
  • Evaluating operations and estimating future operations of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund;
  • Conducting studies of program financing; and
  • Performing actuarial and demographic research on social insurance and related program issues.

The Deputy Chief Actuary has responsibility for:

  • Planning, directing, and coordinating the development of short-range cost estimates;
  • Developing special cost analyses involving technical actuarial issues;
  • Projecting short range operations of the Trust Funds;
  • Projecting expenditures under the Supplemental Security Income program;
  • Providing a variety of data services including data collection and statistical support; and
  • Advising the Chief Actuary on all matters of concern and serves as an actuarial consultant to the Commissioner of Social Security.

Candidates for the position must have professional experience at a senior level (equivalent to the GS-15 in either the General Schedule or a comparable pay plan) and provide evidence of meeting the educational requirement for the 1510 Actuarial Science Series.  Applicants must demonstrate via their resume and application their level of experience for each of the executive core qualifications that are included in the job posting, as well as address each of the mandatory technical qualifications to substantiate their technical knowledge and abilities.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Upcoming event: Social Security Advisory Board. Moving Forward - Implementing Changes in the Representative Payee Program

Social Security Advisory Board

Moving Forward - Implementing Changes in the Representative Payee Program

On Friday, September 7, 2018, the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) will host a day-long forum on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) representative payee program. This forum continues SSAB’s longstanding effort to support and improve a vital government program serving approximately eight million people who need assistance in managing benefits provided by the SSA.

This forum brings policymakers, practitioners and researchers together to explore how SSA can study and improve the representative payee selection process with an evidence-based approach. Recent legislation, “The Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018” (H.R. 4547) makes this event especially timely.

During the forum, you will hear about:

  • how the new legislation sets a roadmap for program reform from congressional staff.
  • how the current order of selection might be improved.
  • particular challenges facing organizational payees and what might be done to meet them.
  • how SSA can improve the data flow to support research that can improve the program.

Location: The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (HVC–201AB) Washington, DC, 20515

Keep checking back on our website for updates.

Read more!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

NBER Summer Institute Social Security Papers

SI 2018 Social Security

Jeffrey B. Liebman, Organizer

July 25, 2018

Supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration

Summer Institute 2018 master schedule

Wednesday, July 25

Kathleen J. Mullen, RAND Corporation
Stephanie L. Rennane, RAND Corporation
The Effect of Unconditional Cash Transfers on the Return to Work of Permanently Disabled Workers

Andreas Haller, University of Zurich
Stefan Staubli, University of Calgary and NBER
Josef Zweimueller, University of Zurich
Tightening Disability Screening Or Reducing Disability Benefits? Evidence and Welfare Implications

Symposium on Disability Insurance
Karen Glenn, Social Security Administration
Stephen Goss, Social Security Administration
Nicole Maestas, Harvard University and NBER
Jeffrey B. Liebman, Harvard University and NBER

Jonathan Gruber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NBER
Ohto Kanninen, Labor Institute for Economic Research
The Effect of Relabeling and Incentives on Retirement: Evidence from a Pension Reform

Antoine Bozio, Institute for Fiscal Studies
Thomas Breda, Paris School of Economics
Julien Grenet, Paris School of Economics
Tax-benefit linkage and Incidence of Social Security Contributions: Evidence from France

Kathleen McKiernan, University of Minnesota
Welfare Impacts of Social Security Reform: The Case of Chile in 1981

Gopi Shah Goda, Stanford University and NBER
Matthew Levy, London School of Economics
Colleen Flaherty Manchester, University of Minnesota
Aaron Sojourner, University of Minnesota
Joshua Tasoff, Claremont Graduate University
Mechanisms behind Retirement Saving Behavior: Evidence from Administrative and Survey Data

Read more!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hearing July 25th: How the Multiemployer Pension System Affects Stakeholders



How the Multiemployer Pension System Affects Stakeholders
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

215 Dirksen Senate Office Building

10:00 AM

Hearing will be webcast

The following witnesses are scheduled to testify:

Mr. James P. Naughton, Assistant Professor and Donald P. Jacobs Scholar, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL

Mr. Joshua D. Rauh, Ph.D, Director of Research and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Mr. Kenneth Stribling, Retired Teamster, Milwaukee, WI

Mr. Timothy P. Lynch, Senior Director Government Relations Practice, Morgan, Lewis, and  Bockius LLP, Annapolis, MD

Senator Hatch's Statement|Senator Brown's Statement

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Savings and Retirement Foundation with SSA’s Hillary Waldron, July 25.

Join us for a Lunch Meeting with Guest Speaker:
Hillary Waldron
Economist with the Office of Economic Analysis and Comparative Studies, Social Security Administration

Who will discuss her new SSA paper:
“Working and Claiming Behavior at Social Security’s Early Entitlement Age (EEA)”
July 25, 2018
Noon-1:00 p.m.
Willard Office Building
1455 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
(Lunch will be provided)

There is considerable interest in evaluating the potential effects of proposals to increase Social Security’s Early Entitlement Age (EEA) in the Social Security policy literature (Waldron 2015). Additionally, there is interest in evaluating proposed changes to Social Security’s retired worker benefit that seek to shield Social Security fully insured workers deemed to be most vulnerable to those proposed changes (Waldron 2012, 2013). This project aims to contribute to both strands of that literature by extracting potentially relevant empirical information from Social Security’s administrative data files.
To provide a first look at the data, this paper is limited to observations of work behavior at ages 61 and 63 and claiming behavior at Social Security’s Early Entitlement Age (EEA) of 62—that is at the age at which workers are first eligible to claim Social Security retired worker benefits. Under current law, retired worker benefits are reduced a fraction of a percent for each month a worker claims before his or her full retirement age(FRA).


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Monday, July 16, 2018

Smith: Fixing Social Security starts with the voters

Writing for Market Watch, Brenton Smith argues that the responsibility for the failure to enact Social Security reform isn’t merely Congress’s fault; rather, it’s due to voters who don’t have a strong understanding of the program and the problems it faces:

Here’s a hard truth: Politicians are not problem solvers. They are consensus builders, distilling a range of ideas into actionable legislation. It is their job to shake hands and scratch backs until sufficient agreement emerges that a proposal is generally acceptable to voters.

In order for that process to thrive, there has to be some fabric of fact on which to build consensus. Today that foundation does not exist. Instead, the discussion of Social Security has devolved into a contentious shouting match in which hyperbole and myth frequently pass for truth. No sensible politician will attempt to build agreement in that forum of discussion.

I think Smith is partly true. Yes, voters don’t understand Social Security policy very well. Guess what? Members of Congress don’t understand it too well either.

But I think they both understand it well enough. The root of the problem, as I see it, is that – for all the talk of  helping our grandchildren – both voters and politicians selfish. Voters, or at least the median voter, would prefer to stick tomorrow’s generation with the tough decisions rather than having to bear those costs today. Politicians would rather acquiesce to that than lose re-election.

This, I think, is a major reason why educational campaigns on Social Security (or Medicare, or the debt) haven’t succeeded. The problem isn’t a lack of knowledge, although that knowledge deficit surely exists. It’s human nature, a desire to favor yourself over other people, even if those other people are your grandchildren.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Commentary on the 2018 Social Security Trustees Report

On June 5 the Social Security Trustees released their 2018 report on the program’s finances. Not much change: the 75-year actuarial deficit increased by a minute amount to 2.84% of wages while the date of the trust fund’s projected insolvency remained steady at 2034.

Following are some articles commenting or providing insight onto the Trustees Report.

The Trustees summary of their report.

  • A letter from the two former public trustees, Chuck Blahous and Robert Reischauer.
  • Marc Goldwein: As Demagogues Squawk, Clock is Ticking on Social Security.
  • Video of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s event on the Trustees Report.
  • Elizabeth Bauer: Who's Afraid Of The Big, Bad Old Age Dependency Ratio? and Against Social Security Anti-Chicken-Little-ism (On The Social Security Trustees' Report)
  • Andrew Biggs: Social Security Reform, Back Where We Started.
  • Alicia Munnell: Social Security’s Financial Outlook: The 2018 Update in Perspective.
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Thursday, May 31, 2018

SSA Policy Job Openings!

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for two individuals to serve in leadership roles within its Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) as the Office’s Associate Commissioner (AC) and Chief Research and Data Officer (CRDO). The AC will report directly to the Deputy Commissioner and Assistant Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy (ORDP), while the CRDO will report directly to the AC for ORES. The office has locations in Woodlawn, MD and Washington DC. Duty location will be determined based on the selectee for the position; however, regular travel between the two offices is expected.

The AC for ORES has responsibility for the broad research, evaluation, and statistical programs of SSA, including the:

· Study of problems of poverty and insecurity;

· Examination of expected or projected outcomes from current or modified program rules; and

· Evaluation of proposed solutions to such problems by social insurance and related programs.

The AC is also responsible for:

· Advising senior Agency officials on research findings relating to Social Security reform;

· Responding to information requests from Agency, Administration and Congressional policy makers; and

· Participating in formulating Agency-level policy and program planning.

S/he represents the research, evaluation, and statistical interests of SSA at meetings or on committees with other Government agencies, including the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy colleges and universities, research centers, and other professional organizations. As such, the incumbent makes commitments concerning research, evaluation and statistical projects and activities to be carried out, and the products to be supplied. 

Candidates for the AC position must have professional experience at a senior level (equivalent to the GS-15 in either the General Schedule (GS) or a comparable pay plan) and demonstrate via their resume and application their level of experience for each of the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) that are included in the job posting.

The CRDO meanwhile will oversee the technical aspects of the office's comprehensive research and statistics program to support social security policy development and inform policymakers, the public and external stakeholders on a spectrum of critical social security issues. Responsibilities for the position include:

· Developing the agency's portfolio of short and long-term research projects;

· Ensuring the scientific integrity of SSA’s intramural and extramural research products, developing program data used to inform policy decisions, authoring peer-reviewed articles on research project findings in professional journals, and improving the use of research results in decision making throughout the agency;

· Advising management regarding the statistical processes/practices the organization is responsible for engaging in as a formally recognized federal statistical agency producing statistics on SSA's social welfare programs;

· Presenting agency research projects before Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy, colleges and universities, research centers, other professional organizations, and external monitoring authorities such as the Government Accountability Office, the Social Security Advisory Board, and the Office of Inspector General; and

· Fostering research, evaluation and statistical projects that tie into the Social Security research program via extramural mechanisms.

Applicants to the CRDO position must possess progressive research experience at a senior analytical/scientific level, including substantial specialized experience managing extramural social science research programs, and demonstrated experience and ability designing a portfolio of internal social science research projects. Typically, experience of this nature will have been gained at or above the GS-15, comparable pay band or level above in the federal government; or comparable position with a state or local government, or private sector organization. Applicants are required to address each of the mandatory technical qualifications (TQ) statements included in the job posting to substantiate their technical knowledge and abilities.

The complete vacancy announcement for both jobs can be found on USAJOBS; direct link below. Interested applicants may apply to one or both of the vacancies:

Associate Commissioner                   SSA-EX-500

Chief Research and Data Officer       SSA-SL-004

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

New paper: “What Explains the Widening Gap in Retirement Ages by Education?”

“What Explains the Widening Gap in Retirement Ages by Education?”

by Matthew S. Rutledge

The brief's key findings are:

  • The increase in the average retirement age has been driven almost solely by those with more education.
  • Those with less education have:
    • seen less improvement in health;
    • faced more physically demanding jobs and less flexible work schedules;
    • experienced slower increases in lifespans, meaning less to gain from delaying Social Security; and
    • seen steeper drops in marriage rates, providing less incentive to work longer in order to retire with a younger spouse.
  • These trends make it harder for those with less education to achieve a secure retirement.

This brief is available here. Read more!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

New paper: “Modernizing Social Security: An Overview”

Modernizing Social Security: An Overview

by Alicia H. Munnell and Andrew D. Eschtruth

The brief’s key findings are:

  • Many policy experts support targeted changes to Social Security benefits for vulnerable groups, such as caregivers, widows, the very old, and low earners
  • Several of these changes have been endorsed by bipartisan groups, which indicates the potential for widespread support.
  • Such changes, by themselves, would raise Social Security’s long-term deficit.
  • But if the cost increases were offset by reducing other benefits, Social Security could be modernized in a way that is both effective and cost-neutral.
  • Further briefs in this series will evaluate the policy options for specific groups in more detail, including potential offsets to cover the costs.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

New papers from the National Bureau of Economic Research

Labor Force Participation of the Elderly in Japan by Takashi Oshio, Emiko Usui, Satoshi Shimizutani - #24614 (AG PE)


Japan experienced increases in labor force participation (LFP) of the elderly in recent years, as have other advanced countries.

In the present study, we overview the employment trend of the elderly in Japan, and examine what factors have contributed to its increase since the early 2000s. Improved health and longevity, increasing education levels, and a shift towards less physically demanding jobs have allowed the elderly to stay longer in the labor force. However, elderly employment rebound and its timing are more closely linked to changes in social security incentives, especially increases in the eligibility age for public pension benefits. More broadly, reduced generosity in social security programs since the mid-1980s has been a key driver of the long-term trend change in elderly employment. A series of social security reforms have helped utilize the elderly's potential work capacity, accumulated due to improving health conditions and other favorable factors for LFP in the elderly.

Long-run Trends in the Economic Activity of Older People in the UK by James Banks, Carl Emmerson, Gemma Tetlow - #24606 (AG)


We document employment rates of older men and women in the UK over the last forty years. In both cases growth in employment since the mid 1990s has been stronger than for younger age groups. On average, older men are still less likely to be in work than they were in the mid 1970s although this is not true for those with low education. We highlight issues with using years of schooling as a measure of educational achievement for analysing labour market trends at older ages, not least because a large proportion of men who left school at young ages without any formal qualifications, have subsequently acquired some.

Reforms - such as the abolition of the earnings test and rises in the female State Pension Age, have pushed up employment rates.

But other factors - such as the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions being offered by private sector employers and the growth in employment rates at younger ages among successive cohorts of women - are also important. We discuss the role of other cohort and economy-wide trends, highlighting that the proportion of older men and women employed in professional, managerial and technical occupations has been particularly strong.

Early Social Security Claiming and Old-Age Poverty: Evidence from the Introduction of the Social Security Early Eligibility Age by Gary V. Engelhardt, Jonathan Gruber, Anil Kumar - #24609 (AG HC LS PE)


Social Security faces a major financing shortfall. One policy option for addressing this shortfall would be to raise the earliest age at which individuals can claim their retirement benefits. A welfare analysis of such a policy change depends critically on how it affects living standards. This paper estimates the impact of the Social Security early entitlement age on later-life elderly living standards by tracing birth cohorts of men who had access to different potential claiming ages. The focus is on the Social Security Amendments of 1961, which introduced age 62 as the early entitlement age (EEA) for retired-worker benefits for men. Based on data from the Social Security Administration and March 1968-2001 Current Population Surveys, reductions in the EEA in the long-run lowered the average claiming age by 1.4 years, which lowered Social Security income for male-headed families in retirement by 1.5% at the mean, 3% at the median, and 4% at the 25th percentile of the Social Security income distribution. The increase in early claiming was associated with a decrease in total income, but only at the bottom of the income distribution. There was a large associated rise in elderly poverty and income inequality; the introduction of early claiming raised the elderly poverty rate by about one percentage point. Finally, for the 1885-1916 cohorts, the implied elasticity of poverty with respect to Social Security income for male-headed families is 1.6−. Overall, we find that the introduction of early claiming was associated with a reduction in income and an increase in the poverty rate in old age for male-headed households.

Pauvrete, Egalite, Mortalite: Mortality (In)Equality in France and the United States by Janet Currie, Hannes Schwandt, Josselin Thuilliez - #24623 (AG CH HC HE)


We develop a method to compare levels and trends in inequality in mortality in the United States and France in a similar framework.

The comparison shows that while income inequality has increased in both the United States and France, inequality in mortality in France remained remarkably low and stable. In the United States, inequality in mortality increased for older groups (especially

women) while it decreased for children and young adults. These patterns highlight the fact that despite the strong cross-sectional relationship between income and health, there is no necessary connection between changes in income inequality and changes in health inequality.

Changes in Nutrient Intake at Retirement by Melvin Stephens Jr., Desmond Toohey - #24621 (AG LS PE AP)


While the literature finding a decrease in food expenditures at retirement suggests households do not adequately save for retirement, subsequent evidence that nutrient intake is unaffected by retirement has tempered these concerns. We further examine nutrient intake changes at retirement both by analyzing a much wider range of datasets, including longitudinal data, and by improving upon the empirical methodology used in earlier work.

Our analysis yields four main results. First, unlike prior work, we find that caloric and nutrient intake fall at retirement in numerous cross-sectional datasets. We can reconcile these contrasting results as being due to well-documented differences and improvements in methodologies used to measure food intake.

Second, using longitudinal data, we also find that intake falls at retirement. Third, we show that a food consumption index used in prior work to capture the relationship between permanent income and foods eaten can severely underestimate the impact of retirement on consumption. We show that a minor methodological revision circumvents this bias and that the revised consumption index falls at retirement. Finally, while unemployment reduces the consumption index, we find, in contrast to prior work, that the impact of retirement on the consumption index is larger.

Overall, we consistently find that retirement reduces food intake.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

New papers from the American Economic Association Conference Proceedings

Disability Saliency and Discrimination in Hiring (#51)
Phillip Armour, Patrick Button and Simon Hollands

Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

The Effect of the Disability Insurance Application Decision on the Employment of Denied Applicants (#52)
Mashfiqur R. Khan

Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

Return-to-Work Policies and Labor Supply in Disability Insurance Programs (#53)
Arezou Zaresani

Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

Time and Money: Social Security Benefits and Intergenerational Transfers (#77)
Anita Mukherjee

Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

In Debt and Approaching Retirement: Claim Social Security or Work Longer? (#78)
Barbara A. Butrica and Nadia S. Karamcheva

Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

The Changing Face of Debt and Financial Fragility at Older Ages (#79)
Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia S. Mitchell and Noemi Oggero

Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

New paper: “Working Longer in the U.S.: Trends and Explanations”

Working Longer in the U.S.: Trends and Explanations

Courtney Coile

NBER Working Paper No. 24576
Issued in May 2018
NBER Program(s):Aging

Over the past two decades, labor force participation rates for older men have been rising, reversing a century-long trend towards earlier retirement. Participation rates for older women are rising as well. A number of theories have been put forward to explain the rise in participation at older ages, including improving mortality and health, increasing education and a shift towards less physically demanding work, and changes in employer-provided benefits and Social Security. This paper documents trends in labor force participation and employment at older ages and in the factors that may be contributing to rising participation. A review of these trends and of the relevant literature suggests that increases in education, women’s growing role in the economy, the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans, and Social Security reforms all likely played some role in the trend towards longer work lives.

Among the causes of increased labor force participation, as summarized by the Retirement Income Journal:

  • A shift in employer-provided pensions from DB to DC type plans reduced the share of workers facing strong incentives to retire at particular ages, while a decline in retiree health coverage left some workers with no means of obtaining health insurance other than through their job, at least until the Medicare eligibility age of 65; both changes contributed to longer work lives.
  • Changes to the Social Security FRA (full retirement age), DRC (delayed retirement credit) and RET (retirement earnings test) have strengthened the incentive for work past the FRA, contributing to the increase in participation at older ages.
  • Three changes to Social Security – the increase in the FRA, the increase in the DRC above the FRA, and elimination of the RET above the FRA – seem likely to have contributed substantially to the increase in employment at older ages, particularly at ages 65 and above.
  • Each one percentage point increase in the DRC is associated with a roughly one percentage point increase in the employment rate of men ages 65 to 69. This estimate suggests that the five-point increase in the DRC since 1990 could explain up to half of the increase in participation of men ages 65 to 69 over this period.
  • For men ages 60 to 64, participation began to rise in the mid-1990s, growing from 53% in 1994 to 62% in 2016, a 9-point increase. For men ages 65 to 69, the trend began a decade earlier and the increase to date is 12 points, from 25% in 1985 to 37% in 2016.
  • The trend for women is quite different. In all age groups, participation has risen continuously since 1980, increasing by 17 points at ages 55 to 59 and 60 to 64 and by 13 points at ages 65 to 69. In 2016, nearly two-thirds of women ages 55 to 59 and half of women ages 60 to 64 were in the labor force.
  • There are very large differences in participation by education. On average across all years, the participation of college graduates is 25 points higher than that of high school dropouts for both men and women ages 60 to 64; at ages 65 to 69, the participation gap between college graduates and high school graduates is 23 points for men and 15 points for women.
  • Single men participate at rates 10 to 20 points below their married counterparts, depending on the age group, and these differences have been stable or widened slightly over time. In the case of women, single women in 1980 had participation rates 16 to 18 points higher than those of married women at ages 55 to 64 and 8 points higher at ages 65 to 69.
  • Self-employment is fairly popular among men, with 12 to 13% of men ages 55 to 64 and 10% of men ages 65 to 69 engaged in such work in 2016; rates of self-employment among women are about half as large.
  • The fraction of men working part-time (less than 35 hours per work) is low but rises with age, at about 6% of those ages 55 to 59 and 9% of those ages 65 to 69. Part-time work is more common for women, with 11 to 12% of all age groups working part-time in 2016.
  • Health at older ages – as measured by mortality risk – has improved substantially over time. The mortality rate at age 60 has declined by 40% for men and one-third for women since 1980. While better health may have supported longer work lives, there is little evidence that it is a primary driver.
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