Social security, life insurance and annuities for families

Jay H. Hong, José Víctor Ríos-Rull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


In this paper we ask whether an aspect of social security, namely its role as a provider of insurance against uncertain life spans, is welfare enhancing. To this end we use an OLG model where agents have a bequest motive and differ in sex and marital status and where families are formed and destroyed and their characteristics evolve (exogenously) according to U.S. demographic patterns of marriage, divorce, fertility and mortality. We compare the implications of social security under a variety of market structures that differ in the extent to which life insurance and annuities are available. We find that social security is a bad idea. In economies where the private sector provides annuities and life insurance, it is a bad idea for the standard reason that it distorts the intertemporal margin by lowering the capital stock. In the absence of such securities social security is still a very bad idea, only marginally less so compared with economies with annuities and life insurance. We also explore these issues in a world where people live longer and we find no differences in our answers. As a by-product of our analysis we find that the existence of life insurance opportunities for people is important in welfare terms while that of annuities is not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)118-140
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Monetary Economics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Altruism
  • Annuity
  • Life cycle model
  • Life insurance
  • Social security


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