Social Security Wealth, Inequality, and Life-cycle Saving: An Update

TitleSocial Security Wealth, Inequality, and Life-cycle Saving: An Update
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsSabelhaus, J, Volz, AHenriques
Series TitleMRRC Working Paper
Document NumberMRDRC WP 2020-416
InstitutionUniversity of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center
CityAnn Arbor, MI
KeywordsInequality, life-cycle saving, social security wealth

Social Security wealth (SSW) is the present value of future benefits an individual will receive
less the present value of future taxes they will pay. When an individual enters the labor force,
they generally face a lifetime of taxes to pay before they will receive any benefits and, thus, their
initial SSW is generally low or negative. As an individual works and pays into the system their
SSW grows and generally peaks somewhere around typical Social Security benefit claiming
ages. The accrual of SSW over the working life is most important for lower income workers
because the progressive Social Security benefit formula means that taxes paid while working
are associated with proportionally higher benefits in retirement. We estimate SSW for
individuals in the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) for 1995 through 2019 using detailed
labor force history and expectations modules. We use a pseudo-panel approach to empirically
demonstrate life-cycle patterns of SSW accumulation and drawdown. We also show that
including SSW in a comprehensive wealth measure generally reduces estimated levels of U.S.
wealth inequality, but does not reverse the upward trend in top wealth shares.

Citation Key11468