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2 Social Security Trends to Watch Post-COVID

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It’ll be a year before Social Security data reflects beneficiary behavior as a result of the pandemic, but in order to determine how much of an impact it had, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College analyzed the ages of beneficiaries who started claiming in 2019, as well as trends in early claiming over time.

Related: Social Security rolls out new, shorter statements

Social Security Claim Age

In 2019, roughly a third of beneficiaries started claiming retirement benefits at age 62, and another third claimed at their full retirement age of 65 or 66, the report found. Women were more likely to claim at 62 than FRA (34% compared to 30%), and men were more likely to wait until FRA (31% compared to 36%). Just 9% of women and 6% of men waited until they were 70 or older to begin taking Social Security benefits.

CRR notes that the early claiming age might appear more popular than it really is due to the increase in eligible 62-year-olds since the late ’90s.

“Our reading of the early evidence is that COVID and the ensuing recession have not pushed large numbers into early retirement — perhaps because those most affected cannot afford to stop working,” according to authors Anqi Chen and Alicia Munnell. Chen is research economist and assistant director for savings research, and Munnell is director of CRR.

The share of people who have decided to claim Social Security benefits at age 62 has been falling since the mid-2000s, CRR found. Until 2005, about 60% of women and 55% of men claimed at this age. There was a noticeable increase in the share of people claiming at 62 following the Great Recession, but it has trended steadily down ever since.

Age Cohort Claiming Behavior

CRR also examined claiming age by birth cohort and found that younger generations have become less likely to begin taking benefits at 62. Early claimers held relatively steady among people born in the 1920s to the mid-1930s, but started to trend down for people born in the late 1930s. In fact, beneficiaries have been waiting longer and longer to begin taking benefits, the report found.

“The big news here is that not only has the percentage of 62-year-olds claiming at 62 declined dramatically, but those who forgo early claiming appear to wait to the full retirement age to claim their benefits,” according to the report.