Why Do Married Men Claim Social Security Benefits So Early? Ignorance or Caddishness?

Steven A. SassWei Sun Anthony Webb

WP#2007-17

Abstract

Most married men claim Social Security benefits at age 62 or 63, well short of both Social Security’s Full Retirement Age and the age that maximizes the household’s expected present value of benefits (EPVB).  This results in a loss of less than 4 percent in household EPBV.  But essentially the entire loss is borne by the survivor benefit, falls nearly 20 percent.  As many elderly widows have very low incomes, early claiming by married men is a major social problem.

Regression results found no association between early claiming and caddishness or the ability of husbands to make claiming decisions independently.  The one statistically significant finding is the association of college education and later claiming, which cautiously take to indicate greater financial awareness.  This suggests that an effective educational campaign might be able to raise the claiming ages of married men and improve widows’ retirement income security. But financial education has not been especially effective in changing behavior.  Policymakers should thus consider other initiatives to assure a survivor benefit greater than that produced by an age 62 or 63 husbands’ claiming age.  Such initiatives include raising the Earliest Eligibility Age, requiring spousal consent for claiming prior to the Full Retirement Age, and preserving the survivor benefit at its Full Retirement Age value and allowing the higher-earning spouse to access only a portion of his (or her) Primary Insured Amount prior to the Full Retirement Age.