AARP Research

The Impact Of Claiming Age On Monthly Social Security Retirement Benefits: How Knowledgeable Are Future Beneficiaries?

This survey of over 2,000 adults ages 52-70 who are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits and who expect to claim benefits within the next 15 years examines future beneficiaries’ knowledge of how their Social Security retirement benefits are determined, including how the age at which they claim benefits may affect their own benefits as well as the benefits available to their spouse or widow.
Overview of Key Findings
Like the first survey, the most recent survey reveals widespread knowledge of certain issues that affect how Social Security retirement benefits are determined while also revealing a considerable lack of knowledge of some critical nuances.  
For example, the vast majority of future beneficiaries are aware that their monthly benefits would increase if they were to wait until their full retirement age to claim benefits rather than claim at age 62. Most are also aware that delaying claiming by one year beyond their full retirement age would cause their monthly benefits to increase.  The majority also are at least somewhat familiar with benefits for widows and widowers.

However, fewer respondents exhibited an understanding of other important issues that affect the determination of benefits.  For example, very few knew the number of years of highest earnings that are used to calculate benefits.  Awareness of the fact that spousal benefits are available to spouses of living workers was also relatively low as was awareness of the age at which a worker would need to claim his own retirement benefits in order to maximize monthly benefits available to his or her surviving spouse in the case of the worker's death.  Respondents also exhibited low awareness of the age at which a surviving spouse would need to claim widow/widower benefits in order to maximize these monthly benefits.   
Additionally, although most understand that workers who receive benefits prior to their full retirement age while continuing to earn income from work may experience a reduction in benefits due to the "earnings test," very few are aware that this reduction in benefits is temporary.
Conducted from December 21, 2011 through January 10, 2012, this is the second survey related to knowledge of Social Security benefits that AARP has published in recent years.  Unlike the first survey, this second survey includes oversamples of Hispanics and African Americans in order to enable comparisons by race/ethnicity.

For more information about the survey, please contact S. Kathi Brown of AARP's Research and Strategic Analysis Department at  Inquiries from the media  should be directed to AARP's Media Relations Department at (202) 434-2560.

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