How Does Modeling of Retirement Decisions at the Family Level Affect Estimates of the Impact of Social Security Policies on Retirement?

Published: 2008
Project ID: UM08-03


This paper applies structural models of retirement and saving of two earner couples to explore the effects on retirement of two actuarially neutral policies, which we know from previous work can have a substantial effect on retirement if heterogeneity in time preference rates is allowed.  The main question being investigated here is whether using a model that explicitly incorporates the retirement interactions of two working spouses yields a different evaluation of policies than when a much simpler model that treats the retirement decisions of the second spouse as exogenous is used.  The findings indicate that unless the question of interest is specifically related to joint retirement issues, the effects of the two actuarially neutral policies being investigated are roughly equal whichever model is estimated. 

A second question explored in the paper is whether two earner and one earner households can be combined in the analysis.  The effects of policy changes are clearly different for one earner and two earner households, but there is some evidence that the principal difference is due to the differing budget sets of the two groups.  Though the estimated preference parameters are significantly different, the critical parameters governing responses to policy changes are similar.  As a result, it seems plausible that unless the question being investigated involves looking at these two groups separately, the overall impact of the policy changes may be adequately assessed by combining the two groups, separately identifying them by a dummy varible.

A third question involves the magnitude of the effects for these two specific policy changes.  Increasing the Social Security early entitlement age from 62 to 64 would reduce the level of retirement for husbands from two earner households by 4.4-4.6 percentage points at age 62, and by 5.1-5.7 percentage points for wives.  In contrast, this policy change would induce husbands from one earner households to reduce the level of retirement by 10.2 percentage points at age 62.  In a system of personal accounts, offering Social Security benefits as a lump sum instead of as an annuity would increase the level of retirement for husbands from two earner households by 7.1-8.1 percentage points at age 62 and by 8.9 percentage points for husbands in one earner households, and by 2.8-3.2 percentage points for wives in two earner households.