Social Security Household Benefits: The Impact of Program Knowledge

Published: 2018
Project ID: UM18-05


Social Security offers two types of benefits for spouses: spousal and survivor benefits. Regardless of his or her own work history, a married individual can claim spousal Social Security benefits, which are equal to half of his or her spouse’s Social Security benefits. Furthermore, a widow or widower can claim survivor benefits — he or she can receive his or her Social Security benefit, or his or her deceased spouse’s full benefit, whichever is larger. Ideally, married individuals think about the impact of their Social Security choices on their spouse. However, if people do not fully understand the rules for the spousal and survivor benefits, they may make suboptimal choices not only about Social Security claiming, but perhaps also about labor and marriage decisions. In this project we will make use of existing and new data collection from the Understanding America Study to assess households’ understanding of these benefits.