The Implications of Differential Trends in Mortality for Social Security Policy

23 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2015

See all articles by John Bound

John Bound

University of Michigan; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Arline T. Geronimus

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Public Health

Javier Rodriguez

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Timothy Waidmann

The Urban Institute

Date Written: October 2014

Abstract

While increased life expectancy in the U.S. has been used as justification for raising the Social Security retirement ages, independent researchers have reported that life expectancy declined in recent decades for white women with less than a high school education. However, there has been a dramatic rise in educational attainment in the U.S. over the 20th century suggesting a more adversely selected population with low levels of education. Using data from the National Vital Statistics System and the U.S. Census from 1990-2010, we examine the robustness of earlier findings to several modifications in the assumptions and methodology employed. We categorize education in terms of relative rank in the overall distribution, rather than by credentials or years of education, and estimate trends in mortality for the bottom quartile. We also consider race and gender specific changes in the distribution of life expectancy. We found no evidence that survival probabilities declined for the bottom quartile of educational attainment. Nor did distributional analyses find any subgroup experienced absolute declines in survival probabilities. We conclude that recent dramatic and highly publicized estimates of worsening mortality rates among non-Hispanic whites who did not graduate from high school are highly sensitive to alternative approaches to asking the fundamental questions implied. However, it does appear that low SES groups are not sharing equally in improving mortality conditions, which raises concerns about the differential impacts of policies that would raise retirement ages uniformly in response to average increases in life expectancy.

Keywords: Social Security, FRA, life expectancy, differential trends, mortality, educational attainment

Suggested Citation

Bound, John and Geronimus, Arline T. and Rodriguez, Javier and Waidmann, Timothy, The Implications of Differential Trends in Mortality for Social Security Policy (October 2014). Michigan Retirement Research Center Research Paper No. 2014-314. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2549216 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2549216

John Bound (Contact Author)

University of Michigan ( email )

611 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220
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313-998-7149 (Phone)
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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Arline T. Geronimus

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Public Health ( email )

109 S. Observatory
M5142 SPH II
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029
United States
(734) 763-7379 (Phone)
(734) 936-0929 (Fax)

Javier Rodriguez

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Timothy Waidmann

The Urban Institute ( email )

2100 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037
United States

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