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Key Findings Details

The Social Security Early Retirement Benefit as Safety Net
John Bound and Timothy A. Waidmann
WP 2010-240

  • We use Health and Retirement Study data to analyze the health and economic status of those who apply for early retirement benefits and find that 1 in 5 of early retirees match the characteristics of Disability Insurance recipients.
  • The pattern of using early retirement benefits as a response to poor health is most evident for men and unmarried women.  Married women who retire early appear to weigh other factors in that decision.
  • Early Social Security benefits likely provide a safety net for those in poor health, who are either not in poor enough health to be eligible for disability benefits or who, for whatever reason, did not apply for them.
  • If the early retirement age for Social Security were to increase without an alternative safety net in place, it seems likely that this group of early retirees who are least able to work would either attempt to qualify for DI or face substantial income losses.

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