Most married men claim Social Security benefits at age 62 or 63. This is well short of both Social Security's Full Retirement Age and the age that maximizes the household's expected present value of benefits (EPVB).
This results in a loss of less than 4 percent in household EPBV. But essentially the entire loss is born by the survivor benefit, which falls nearly 20 percent. As many elderly widows have very low incomes, early claiming by married men is a major social problem, according to Steven Sass, Wei Sun and Anthony Webb, authors of "Why do married men claim social security benefits so early - ignorance or caddishness?"
The study found no association between early claiming and caddishness or the ability of husbands to make claiming decisions independently. The one statistically significant finding is the association of college education and later claiming, which the authors cautiously take to indicate greater financial awareness. This suggests that an effective educational campaign might increase the claiming ages of married men and improve widows' retirement income security. But financial education has not been especially effective in changing behavior. The authors recommend that policymakers should consider other initiatives to assure a survivor benefit greater than that produced by an age 62 or 63 husbands' claiming age. These include raising the Earliest Eligibility Age, requiring spousal consent for claiming prior to the Full Retirement Age, and preserving the survivor benefit at its Full Retirement Age value and allowing the higher-earning spouse to access only a portion of his (or her) Primary Insured Amount prior to the Full Retirement Age.