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Abstract: A majority of women receive most of their Social Security benefits based upon their husbands' earnings history, but previous research has shown that husbands' benefit claiming is inconsistent with maximizing lifetime benefits for the couple. However, that research assumes husbands choose their claim age based on all Social Security incentives facing the household. I show that husbands' claiming behavior responds to the actuarial incentives built into their own retired worker benefit formula, but not to the incentives built into the spouse and survivor formulas that determine their wives' benefits. This failure to incorporate his spouses' incentives reduces wives' lifetime benefits. Variation in incentives comes from rule changes to the Social Security benefit calculation in addition to the age difference between spouses and the relative strength of the wife's labor force history. A variety of robustness checks looking at segments of the population predicted to be more responsive to incentives provide similar results to the main specification.

Keywords: Social Security incentives, retirement behavior, married couples

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