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Social Security Claiming Knowledge and Decision-Making Factors

In 2009, with the 75th anniversary of Social Security approximately one year away, AARP embarked on a two-part study to examine knowledge of and attitudes toward Social Security retirement benefits among current and future beneficiaries.   While Social Security provides various types of benefits (including retirement benefits, disability benefits, spousal benefits, and survivor benefits for widows/widowers and other dependents), this study focuses only on individuals who are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.  We focused specifically on individuals ages 55 to 66 who are currently receiving Social Security retirement benefits, are not yet receiving them but are already eligible to receive them, or will be eligible to receive them within the next few years.  The study, which consisted of focus groups followed by a survey, had the following key objectives:

  • To assess current and future beneficiaries’ knowledge of how their Social Security retirement benefits are determined as well as how the age at which they claim benefits may affect benefits available to their spouse or widow
  • To determine the factors that influence people’s decisions regarding when to claim benefits
  • To determine whether different methods of presenting the relationship between one’s claiming age and the amount of the benefit may lead to different decisions regarding when to claim benefits

The findings from the study are published in two reports.  The first report includes the findings related to assessing knowledge of Social Security retirement benefits.  The second report presents the findings related to how people decide when to claim benefits.

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