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Framing and claiming: How information-framing affects expected social security claiming behavior (Brown et al. 2016)

Citation

Brown, J. R., Kapteyn, A., & Mitchell, O. S. (2016). Framing and claiming: How information-framing affects expected social security claiming behavior. Journal of Risk and Insurance, 83(1), 139-162.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of different ways of framing retirement information on the age at which individuals intended to claim Social Security benefits.
  • The authors randomly assigned people who had been employed for at least 10 years and had yet to claim Social Security benefits to receive different messages about claiming the benefits. Each message contained the same financial information, but the information was presented—or framed—in different ways. There were 10 different messages—9 treatment conditions and one control condition that presented neutral information. Each study participant received 6 of the 10 messages.
  • The study found that, on average, those presented with the break-even treatment were more likely to indicate a younger intended age to receive benefits compared with those presented with the control condition, whereas those who received 4 of the other treatment conditions expressed an older intended age compared with the control condition.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because it was based on a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition and the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the framing of information about the age at which Social Security is collected; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Features of the Study

To be eligible for the study, participants must not have already collected Social Security, must have worked for at least 10 years, and must not have retired yet (the study excluded those older than 55 who self-identified as retired). Of the baseline sample of 1,437 participants, 58.4 percent were women and 83.9 percent had some college, an associate’s degree, or higher education. Furthermore, 27.0 percent of the sample were ages 18 to 40, 28.2 percent were 41 to 50, 19.1 percent were 51 to 55, and 25.7 percent were older than 55. About one-fifth (21.1 percent) of the baseline sample had less than $35,000 in household income; 41.2 percent had household income from $35,000 to $74,999; and 37.7 percent had household income greater than $75,000.

The authors investigated whether the way in which information about Social Security benefits was presented could affect the age at which people intended to collect the benefits. RAND American Life Panel conducted a panel survey over three waves to test 10 different messages containing this information, including one neutral message that served as the control condition. Survey respondents received the same financial information in the following framing scenarios: the age of Social Security claiming as a break-even (anchored age 62) analysis, in which people who lived long enough would recoup foregone benefits before the age of claiming; eight different combinations of Social Security collection as the loss or gain of consumption or investment power anchored at different ages (62, 66, or 70); or a control condition with the same information presented in a symmetric and neutral fashion. Each survey respondent was randomly assigned to receive 6 different messages, 2 for each of the three waves of the survey (conducted about every two weeks). The authors examined the expected age at which respondents would collect Social Security benefits, measured as the number of months after the respondent turned 62 years old.

Findings

  • Framing information about the age at which Social Security is collected as a break-even analysis caused individuals to report they intended to claim benefits 22 months earlier, on average, than those exposed to the control condition.
  • Framing information about the age at which Social Security is collected as either a consumption or investment gain anchored at 66 years of age caused individuals to report they intended to claim benefits three months later, on average, than those exposed to the control condition.
  • Framing information about the age at which Social Security is collected as a consumption or investment loss anchored at 70 years of age caused individuals to report they intended to claim benefits about two to three months later, on average, than those exposed to the control condition.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Because respondents were presented with multiple frames within and across survey waves, there was the potential of spillover effects if respondents remembered their answers from the previous wave and adjusted their answers to be consistent.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because it was based on a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition and the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the framing of information about the age at which Social Security is collected; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Additional Sources

Brown, J., Kapteyn, A., & Mitchell, O. (2011). Framing effects and expected Social Security claiming behavior (Working paper no. 17018). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Reviewed by CLEAR

September 2016

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