The Social Security Cost of Smoking

John B. Shoven, Jeffrey O. Sundberg, John P. Bunker

NBER Working Paper No. 2234
Issued in May 1987
NBER Program(s):   PE   AG

Our paper is an examination of the Social Security cost of smoking from an individual point of view. It is well known that smokers have a shorter life expectancy than nonsmokers. This means that by smoking they are giving up potential Social Security benefits. We estimate this cost and consider the effects on the system as a whole. We use mortality ratios, which relate the annual death probabilities of smokers and nonsmokers, and the percentage of smokers in each age group to break down the life tables for men and women born in 1920 into the approximate life tables for smokers and nonsmokers. We then calculate expected Social Security taxes and benefits for each group, using median earnings as a base. We find that smoking costs men about $20,000 and women about $10,000 in expected net benefits. The implication of this for the system as a whole is that the prevalence of smoking has a direct effect on the financial viability of the system; every decrease in the number of smokers in society increases the system's liability. Changes in smoking behavior should be recognized as affecting the system.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w2234


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