Framing Effects and Expected Social Security Claiming Behavior

Jeffrey R. Brown, Arie Kapteyn, and Olivia S. Mitchell

Abstract —Eligible participants in the U.S. Social Security system have the ability to claim benefits anytime between ages 62 and 70, with the level of benefit being actuarially adjusted based on the date of claiming. This project shows that individual intentions with regard to Social Security claiming age are sensitive to the manner in which the early versus late claiming decision is framed. Using an experimental design that alters the manner in which the implications of Social Security benefits are framed, we find evidence that the use of a “break-even analysis” has the very strong effect of encouraging individuals to claim early. We show that individuals are more likely to report that they will delay claiming when later claiming is framed as a gain and when the information provides an anchoring point at older, rather than younger, ages. We also provide evidence that females, individuals with credit card debt, and individuals with lower expected benefits are more strongly influenced by framing. The finding that expected claiming decisions can be significantly altered by the framing of information suggests that individuals may not be making fully rational optimizing choices when it comes to choosing a claiming date.