Would People Behave Differently If They Better Understood Social Security? Evidence from a Field Study

Jeffrey Liebman, Erzo Luttmer

NBER Retirement Research Center Paper No. NB 09-01
Issued in September 2010

This paper presents the results of a field experiment in which a random subsample of older workers was given information about key Social Security provisions, while a control group was not. The experiment was designed to examine whether it is possible to affect individual behavior using a relatively inexpensive informational intervention about the provisions of a public program and to explore what mechanisms underlie the behavior change. We find that our relatively mild intervention (sending an informational brochure and an invitation to a webtutorial) significantly increased labor force participation one year later and that this effect is driven by female subjects. The information intervention increased the perceived returns to working longer, especially among female respondents, which suggests that the behavioral response can be attributed at least in part to updated information about Social Security.

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