Love at What Price? Estimating the Value of Marriage

Michael Conlin, Syracuse University
Stacy Dickert-Conlin, Syracuse University
Melissa L. Koenig, U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA)

Using a Social Security law that provides clear financial incentives to delay marriage, we estimate the value of a month of marriage. The law provides that widows eligible for Social Security benefits on their deceased spouse's earnings records are eligible for benefits at age 60, unless they remarry before that age. Remarriage before that age negates her claim to widow benefits and the widow must wait until age 62 to claim spousal benefits, which are typically less generous than widow benefits, on her new husband's record. With data from five panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation linked to administrative records, we estimate the cost of marrying before age 60 imposed by the Social Security rule. By taking advantage of the variation in these costs and when or whether widows remarry before age 60, we use a maximum likelihood technique to estimate the benefit of marriage is $8000/month.

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Presented in Session 101: Family Exchanges