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HKS Authors

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Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government
Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Social Policy


A key question for Social Security reform is whether workers respond to the link on the margin between the Social Security taxes they pay and the Social Security benefits they will receive. We estimate the effects of the marginal Social Security benefits that accrue with additional earnings on three measures of labor supply: retirement age, hours, and labor earnings. We develop a new approach to identifying these incentive effects by exploiting five provisions in the Social Security benefit rules that generate discontinuities in marginal benefits or nonlinearities in marginal benefits that converge to discontinuities as uncertainty about the future is resolved. We find that individuals approaching retirement (age 52 and older) respond to the Social Security tax-benefit link on the extensive margin of their labor supply decisions: we estimate that a 10 percent increase in the net-of-tax share reduces the two-year retirement hazard by a statistically significant 2.0 percentage points from a base rate of 15 percent. The evidence with regards to labor supply responses on the intensive margin is more mixed: we estimate that the elasticity of hours with respect to the net-of-tax share is 0.42 and statistically significant, but we do not find a statistically significant earnings elasticity. Though we lack statistical power to estimate results within subsamples precisely, the retirement response is driven mostly by the female subsample, while the hours response comes from the male subsample.


Liebman, Jeffrey B., Erzo F.P. Luttmer, and David G. Seif. "Labor Supply Responses to Marginal Social Security Benefits: Evidence from Discontinuities." Journal of Public Economics 93.11-12 (December 2009): 1119-1284.