Skip to main content

An experimental analysis of modifications to the survivor benefit information within the Social Security statement


The Social Security Statement is the primary resource most workers prefer to use to learn about their Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration periodically mails this and supporting documents to all workers to help them make informed decisions about when to start receiving their benefits. Understandably, the Statement provides detailed information about the worker's retirement benefit. However, these documents contain remarkably little information about the survivor benefit despite the financial importance of this particular auxiliary benefit to the widows of deceased workers in widowhood. We analyze the effect of modifications to the survivor benefit information in the Statement on benefit knowledge and expected claiming behavior of married men using an experimental survey of workers. The results provide evidence that the augmentation of this information can temporarily improve benefit knowledge and influence expected claim ages.

Hide All
Barrouillet, P., Portrat, S., Vergauwe, E., Diependaele, K., and Camos, V. (2011). Further evidence for temporal decay in working memory: reply to Lewandowsky and Oberauer (2009). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(5): 13021317.
Biggs, A. (2010). Improving the Social Security Statement. Washington, DC: Financial Literacy Center, Working Paper WR-794-SSA.
Brown, J. (1958). Some tests of the decay theory of immediate memory. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 10: 1221.
Brown, J., Kapteyn, A., Mitchell, O., and Mattox, T. (2013). Framing the Social Security Earnings Test. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton Pension Research Council, Working Paper 6.
Brown, J. R., Kapteyn, A., and Mitchell, O. S. (2016). Framing and claiming: how information-framing affects expected social security claiming behavior. Journal of Risk and Insurance, 83(1): 139162.
Brown, K. S. and Perron, R. (2011). Assessing Current and Future Beneficiaries’ Knowledge of Social Security Benefits. Washington, DC: AARP Research and Strategic Analysis.
Diebold, J., Moulton, J., and Scott, J. (2017). Early claiming of higher-earning husbands, the survivor benefit, and the incidence of poverty among recent widows. Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, 16(4): 485508.
Dillman, D., Smyth, J., and Christian, L. (2009). Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys: The Tailored Design Method. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.
Eppler, M. J. and Mengis, J. (2004). The concept of information overload: a review of literature from organization science, accounting, marketing, MIS, and related disciplines. The Information Society, 20(5): 325344.
Fleishman-Mayer, L. A., Hung, A. A., Yoong, J. K., Clift, J., and Tassot, C. (2013). Designing Better Pension Benefits Statements: Current Status, Best Practices and Insights From the Field of Judgment and Decisionmaking. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, Working Paper 951.
Gerber, A. S., Gimpel, J. G., Green, D. P., and Shaw, D. R. (2011). How large and long-lasting are the persuasive effects of televised campaign ads? Results from a randomized field experiment. American Political Science Review, 105(01): 135150.
Gillen, M. and Kim, H. (2009). Older women and poverty transition: consequences of income source changes from widowhood. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 28(3): 320341.
Greenwald, M., Kapteyn, A., Mitchell, O. S., and Schneider, L. (2010). What do People Know About Social Security? Philadelphia, PA: Financial Literacy Center, Working Paper WR-792-SSA.
Hilgert, M. A., Hogarth, J. M., and Beverly, S. G. (2003). Household financial management: the connection between knowledge and behavior. Federal Reserve Bulletin, 89: 309.
Hubener, A., Maurer, R., and Mitchell, O. S. (2015). How family status and social security claiming options shape optimal life cycle portfolios. The Review of Financial Studies, 29(4): 937978.
Johnson, R. W., Smith, K. E., and Haaga, O. (2013). How did the Great Recession Affect Social Security Claiming? Program on Retirement Policy Brief 37. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Karamcheva, N. and Munnell, A. H. (2007). Why are Widows so Poor? Center for Retirement Research Issues in Brief IB#7–9. Boston, MA: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Kimball, M. S. and Shumway, T. (2010). Investor sophistication and the home bias, diversification, and employer stock puzzles. Available at SSRN:
Liebman, J. B. and Luttmer, E. F. (2012). The perception of social security incentives for labor supply and retirement: the median voter knows more than you'd think. Tax Policy and the Economy, 26(1): 142.
Lodge, M., Steenbergen, M. R., and Brau, S. (1995). The responsive voter: campaign information and the dynamics of candidate evaluation. American Political Science Review, 89(02): 309326.
Lusardi, A. (2008). Financial Literacy: An Essential Tool for Informed Consumer Choice? Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 14084.
Lusardi, A. and Mitchell, O. S. (2007). Financial literacy and retirement preparedness: evidence and implications for financial education. Business Economics, 42(1): 3544.
Lusardi, A., Mitchell, O. S., and Curto, V. (2009). Financial Literacy and Financial Sophistication among Older Americans. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 15469.
Mastrobuoni, G. (2011). The role of information for retirement behavior: evidence based on the stepwise introduction of the social security statement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7): 913925.
Maurer, R., Mitchell, O. S., Rogalla, R., and Schimetschek, T. (2016). Will they take the money and work? People's willingness to delay claiming social security benefits for A lump sum. Journal of Risk and Insurance. doi: 10.1111/jori.12173.
Munnell, A. H. and Sass, S. A. (2008). Working Longer: The Solution to the Retirement Income Challenge. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Perron, R. (2012). Paper by Choice: People of all Ages Prefer to Receive Retirement Plan Information on Paper. Washington, DC: AARP Research and Strategic Analysis.
Perron, R. (2015). Social Security Planning in 2015 & Beyond: Perspectives of Future Beneficiaries and Financial Planners. Washington, DC: Collaborative Research between AARP and the Financial Planning Association (FPA).
Portrat, S., Barrouillet, P. N., and Camos, V. (2008). Time-related decay or interference-based forgetting in working memory? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 34(6): 15611564.
Poterba, J., Venti, S., and Wise, D. (2013). Correction: the composition and drawdown of wealth in retirement. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(4): 219221.
Ricker, T. J., Vergauwe, E., and Cowan, N. (2016). Decay theory of immediate memory: from brown (1958) to today (2014). The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69(10): 19691995.
Sass, S. A. (2015). Does the Social Security ‘Statement’ add Value? Center for Retirement Research Issues in Brief IB#2015–11. Boston, MA: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Sass, S. A., Sun, W., and Webb, A. (2007). Why do Married men Claim Social Security Benefits so Early? Ignorance or Caddishness? Chestnut Hill, MA: Center for Retirement Research, Working Paper 2007–17.
Sevak, P., Weir, D. R., and Willis, R. J. (2005). The economic consequences of a husband's death: evidence from the HRS and AHEAD. Social Security Bulletin, 65(3): 3144.
Smith, B. A. and Couch, K. A. (2014 a). Social security statement: background, implementation, and recent developments. Social Security Bulletin, 74(2): 125.
Smith, B. A. and Couch, K. A. (2014 b). How effective is the social security statement? Informing younger workers about social security. Social Security Bulletin, 74(4): 119.
Social Security Administration (2016 a). Income of the Aged Chartbook, 2014 (SSA Publication No. 13–11700). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Social Security Administration (2016 b). Annual Statistical Supplement to the Social Security Bulletin, 2015 (SSA Publication No. 13–11700). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Social Security Administration (2016 c). Income of the Population 55 or Older, 2014 (SSA Publication No. 13-11871). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Social Security Advisory Board (2009). The Social Security Statement: How it Can Be Improved. Washington, DC: Social Security Advisory Board.
Tamborini, C. and Whitman, K. (2007). Women, marriage, and social security benefits revisited. Social Security Bulletin, 67: 1.
Weaver, D. A. (2010). Widows and social security. Social Security Bulletin, 70(3): 89109.
Zick, C. D. and Holden, K. (2000). An assessment of the wealth holdings of recent widows. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 55(2): S90S97.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Pension Economics & Finance
  • ISSN: 1474-7472
  • EISSN: 1475-3022
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-pension-economics-and-finance
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Diebold and Camilleri supplementary material
Diebold and Camilleri supplementary material 1

 Word (14 KB)
14 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed