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Early claiming of higher-earning husbands, the survivor benefit, and the incidence of poverty among recent widows*


Social Security provides survivor benefits to lower-earning spouses of deceased workers entitled to a retirement benefit. The value of the survivor benefit depends on a number of factors including the deceased worker's claim age. We use the Health and Retirement Study and a discrete time hazard model to analyze how the claim age of married men influences the likelihood that their spouse will enter poverty in widowhood. We find that delayed claiming is associated with reduction in a widow's poverty risk. The magnitude of this relationship varies significantly with the claim age, Social Security dependence, and survivor benefit dependence.

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The authors would like to thank Robert Clark and the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and comments. They also thank Susie Camilleri for editorial support. Opinions and errors are solely those of the authors and not of the institutions with which the authors are affiliated.

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Journal of Pension Economics & Finance
  • ISSN: 1474-7472
  • EISSN: 1475-3022
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-pension-economics-and-finance
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