Social Security Spouse and Survivor Benefits for the Modern Family

Brief

Social Security Spouse and Survivor Benefits for the Modern Family

Abstract

Social Security spouse and survivor benefits advantage single-earner families relative to dual-earner families paying the same total taxes. Our paper considers earnings sharingthrough which husbands' and wives' earnings records are combined and averaged throughout their marriage when computing benefitsas well as other changes to spouse/survivor benefits, including caregiver credits and minimum benefits. All the roughly cost-equivalent packages examined improve adequacy and horizontal equity compared to current law. The earnings-sharing proposal, however, only reduced poverty with significant adjustments to the treatment of surviving spouses. The packages reveal tradeoffs among beneficiary groups, with particular tensions around work and marital status.

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