Policy Letter No. 26

Family Status, Social Security Claiming Options, and Life Cycle Portfolios

Social Security rules that determine retirement, spousal, and survivor benefits, along with benefit adjustments according to the age at which these are claimed, open up a complex set of financial options for household decisions. These rules influence optimal household asset allocation, insurance, and work decisions, subject to life cycle demographic shocks, such as marriage, divorce, and children. Our model-based research generates a wealth profile and a low and stable equity fraction consistent with empirical evidence. We confirm predictions that wives will claim retirement benefits earlier than husbands, while life insurance is mainly purchased by younger men. Our policy simulations imply that eliminating survivor benefits would sharply reduce claiming differences by sex while dramatically increasing men’s life insurance purchases.