This paper uses earnings histories from the Social Security Administration, linked to the
survey responses for participants in the Health and Retirement Study, to investigate
redistribution under the current social security benefit formula. As advertised, own benefits are
significantly redistributed from individuals with high to those with low lifetime earnings.
However, redistribution is roughly halved when spouse and survivor benefits are taken into
account and redistribution is measured among families. When families are arrayed by total
earnings during years when both spouses are engaged in substantial work, there is very little
redistribution from families with high to low earnings capacity.