How Effective is Redistribution Under the Social Security Benefit Formula?



This paper uses earnings histories from the Social Security Administration, linked to the survey responses for participants in the Health and Retirement Study, to investigate redistribution under the current social security benefit formula. As advertised, own benefits are significantly redistributed from individuals with high to those with low lifetime earnings. However, redistribution is roughly halved when spouse and survivor benefits are taken into account and redistribution is measured among families. When families are arrayed by total earnings during years when both spouses are engaged in substantial work, there is very little redistribution from families with high to low earnings capacity.


This MRRC working paper was subsequently published as:

Gustman, Alan L., and Steinmeier, Thomas L. “How Effective is Redistribution Under the Social Security Benefit Formula?” Journal of Public Economics 82, no.1 (October 2001): 1-28.

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Paper ID

WP 2000-005

Publication Type

Working Paper

Publication Year