Do Views on Social Security Spending Differ by Age?

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Polling data reveal Social Security enjoys strong support across the political aisle, and a large majority of Americans oppose reducing benefits. However, when considering views of Social Security by age, the popular perception is that support for the program among younger adults is not nearly as much as for older adults. What do the data tell us about public opinion towards Social Security at different ages?

To answer this question, I looked at data from the 2018 General Social Survey. The survey collects data for a wide variety of topics, notably public opinion on a number of spending priorities, including Social Security.

The survey asked people if they think we are spending too much, too little, or about the right amount of money on Social Security. As it turns out, actual public opinion runs counter to popular perception.

A Priority Regardless of Age

As the chart below shows, support for Social Security is consistently high among all adult age groups in the United States. Looking a bit further reveals:

  1. Even among young adults, support for Social Security is strong. Nine out of ten individuals ages 18-29 feel the United States spends either too little or about the right amount. Only 10 percent feel we spend too much on the program.
  2. Underscoring Social Security’s popularity, among individuals ages 30 to 79 almost two-thirds feel we spend too little on the program.
  3. Views on Social Security spending are remarkably similar for those from ages 30 to 79, despite the fact that those in their 30s will not be eligible for retired worker benefits for decades.

Policy Implications

Social Security will need updating soon so that it can continue to pay its promised benefits. Policymakers need to know that Americans across the age spectrum want sufficient funding for Social Security.

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GSS question: “We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I'm going to name some of these problems, and for each one I'd like you to tell me whether you think we're spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on Social Security?”

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Jim Palmieri is a senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute. His areas of expertise include Social Security, retirement, and financial security.

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