Using Consequence Messaging to Improve Understanding of Social Security

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Abstract

In this paper, we developed and evaluated “consequence messaging,” a behaviorally motivated communication strategy in which we used vignettes — video and written stories about hypothetical people — to explain the consequences of decisions. We studied two related areas where consequence messaging may improve understanding and decision-making: valuing annuities and Social Security claiming decisions. We evaluated the impact of consequence messaging by conducting a small-scale, online study on a representative sample of about 650 Americans ages 50 to 60. We randomly assigned respondents to no vignette, a video vignette, or a written vignette. Then, we assessed the impact on understanding and decision-making through a survey. We assessed understanding by asking factual questions, and assessed decision-making by asking respondents to provide advice to a hypothetical person facing various decisions about annuities and Social Security claiming. The vignettes improved understanding and decision-making for both valuing annuities and Social Security claiming decisions. The effect sizes were not significantly different across written vignettes versus video vignettes. The vignettes did not have a statistically significant effect on how respondents rated the importance of concerns related to retirement.

Key Findings

  • The consequence-messaging vignettes statistically, significantly improved subjects’ understanding in the form of more correct responses to survey questions.
  • The treatment effects are similar for written versus video vignettes.
  • Receiving information about annuities and Social Security by regular mail is the most often preferred mode of communication, followed by reading an article online.
  • The vignettes did not have a statistically significant effect on how respondents rated the importance of concerns related to retirement.

Citation

Samek, Anya, Arie Kapteyn, and Andre Gray. 2018. “Using Consequence Messaging to Improve Understanding of Social Security,” University of Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC) Working Paper, WP 2018-383. Ann Arbor, MI. http://mrdrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/papers/pdf/wp383.pdf

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Project

Paper ID

WP 2018-383

Publication Type

Working Paper

Publication Year

2018