Improving the Social Security Statement

Financial Literacy Center Working Paper No. WR-794-SSA

28 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2012

Date Written: October 2010


The Social Security Statement is sent annually to each individual over age 25. The Statement contains information regarding the Social Security program, the individual’s past covered earnings and contributions, and an estimate of the individual’s future retirement benefits. Given the complexity of the Social Security benefit formula, the Statement represents the best and perhaps only estimate of the benefits to which an individual may be entitled. Knowledge of benefits is important, as individuals must plan their own retirement saving around their Social Security benefits. However, little research has been conducted regarding how effectively the Statement has improved Americans’ knowledge of benefit levels. We here use data from the Health and Retirement Study to gauge near-retirees’ ability to predict their Social Security retirement benefits both before and after the Statement began universal distribution to all nearretirees in 1995. Results are ambiguous. The initial automatic distribution of the Statement did not appear to produce an immediate increase in knowledge of retirement benefit levels. However, continued receipt over a number of years prior to claiming may have reduced individual errors in predicting benefits. Financial literacy with regard to Social Security benefit levels may be improved through greater research into the contexts in which recipients understand and retain the benefit estimates contained in the Statement.

Keywords: Social Security

JEL Classification: H55

Suggested Citation

Biggs, Andrew G., Improving the Social Security Statement (October 2010). Financial Literacy Center Working Paper No. WR-794-SSA, Available at SSRN: or

Andrew G. Biggs (Contact Author)

American Enterprise Institute ( email )

1150 17th Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
United States
202-862-5841 (Phone)


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