Using the Health and Retirement Study to Simulate the Effects of Voluntary and Mandatory Systems of Social Security Privatization

Published: 2002
Project ID: UM02-02


Abstract from first paper: The President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security suggests three plans for reforming Social Security. These plans divert various amounts of the payroll tax to a personal account if the worker chooses to participate in the account. In return, Social Security benefits are offset using accounts with real returns ranging from 2% to 3.5%. In addition, the second and third plans proposed by the Commission include features that are designed to balance the finances of the system by reducing the rate of growth of benefits relative to the levels prescribed under current law, to make the system more redistributive, and to make other changes. When “personal accounts ” are mentioned, most people think of accounts that are in some sense separate and shielded from the uncertainties of the Social Security system. That is not the case for the personal accounts proposed by the Commission. Because the participating individual is not entitled to the principal in the account, participating in the account does not shield the individual from the political risks of being in the Social Security system. As a result, the reduction in political risk fostered by the Commission’s proposals comes mainly from the improvement in the financial status of the system fostered by other provisions of the recommended plans. Measures to improve the benefits of low-income individuals, widows and widowers and to enhance the rewards to retirement all create incentive effects that are also discussed in the paper. Abstract from second paper: This paper simulates the retirement effects of the various elements of proposals made by the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security (CSSS). Simulations are based on a structural dynamic model of retirement and savings estimated with data from the first five waves of the Health and Retirement Study. This model posits lifetime expected utility is constrained by an asset accumulation equation and an uncertain lifetime. Retirement preferences and time preferences are both allowed to be heterogeneous among workers, allowing the model to capture the peaks in retirement at both ages 62 and 65. Simulating over the next 75 years, the model suggests that the trend to earlier retirement, which has only recently been interrupted, should continue. The effect of Commission proposals is to provide individuals with incentives to delay their retirement substantially. The overall effect of these proposals could be enough to offset, or more than offset the trend to earlier retirement. The largest effects on retirement in the Commission proposals comes from a provision in Model 2 which would keep benefits roughly constant in real terms. Compared to current law, which allows benefits to grow with wages, in 2075 years this provision would increase the fraction of those 62 years old at full-time work from 39 percent to 46 percent of the cohort. Indexing benefits to life expectancy, as in Plan 3, would lower the effect to 4 percentage points, about the same effect as allowing the system to continue, and after the trust fund is exhausted, paying benefits proportional to revenue. By 2075 a proposal in the Commission’s Model 3 to reduce benefits of early retirees, but raise the actuarial adjustment for those who postpone retirement past the normal retirement age, would create a 3.4 percentage point increase in full-time work for those 65 years old, increasing the number of 65 year olds working full-time by fifteen percent. Other elements of the proposals, including increasing benefits for low wage workers and reducing benefits for high wage workers, would produce only very modest changes in retirement behavior, even within affected groups.