The Impact of the 1972 Social Security Benefit Increase in Household Consumption

Published: 2005


This paper examines the consumption response to the 1972 Social Security benefit increase. Nominal benefits were increased by 20 percent while annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) were contemporaneously implemented and scheduled to begin in less than three years. Taken in isolation, this benefit increase could be viewed as a large and permanent increase in real Social Security benefits. However, the prevailing high rates of inflation that were the impetus for the COLA legislation may have caused households to view the permanent real benefit increase to be substantially less than 20 percent. Using data from the 1972-73 Survey of Consumer Expenditures, the results provide a mixed picture of the consumption impact of the benefit increase. Strictly nondurable consumption increases significantly at the time of the benefit increase. However, this increase does not persist. Furthermore, the likelihood of making any purchases from an array of durable good categories does not change throughout this period.

Key Findings