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Selected Research & Analysis: Demographic Characteristics > Race and Ethnicity

NOTE: Content on this page is intended for the research and policy analysis community and may not reflect current program resources for individuals.

For related statistics and data covering the racial and/or ethnic characteristics of the Social Security–covered population, see our Racial Equity Research, Statistics, and Data Resources.

Related Fact Sheet

Hispanics' Knowledge of Social Security: New Evidence
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 79, No. 4 (released November 2019)
by Janice Peterson, Barbara A. Smith, and Qi Guan

Although Hispanics rely more on Social Security benefits for retirement income than other population groups, their knowledge about the programs is shallower. The authors of this article use data from a large Internet survey panel to identify gaps in Social Security knowledge between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites and among Hispanics across ancestry and primary-language groups and test the statistical significance of their findings. The results offer insights for further research and guidance for policy that aims to promote retirement security for U.S. Hispanics.

Retirement and Socioeconomic Characteristics of Aged Veterans: Differences by Education and Race/Ethnicity
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 79, No. 1 (released February 2019)
by Christopher R. Tamborini, Patrick J. Purcell, and Anya Olsen

This article's authors use data from the 1995 and 2015 Current Population Surveys to provide multi-layered descriptive statistics on the retirement and socioeconomic characteristics of veterans aged 55 or older. The authors explore indicators of family structure, work, income from Social Security and other sources, and economic security. They also investigate differences in educational attainment and race/ethnicity within and across veteran and nonveteran samples over the two-decade span. Further, they account for age and cohort effects by separately analyzing three age groups: 55–61, 62–69, and 70 or older. The authors find important within-group differences among aged veterans across education and racial/ethnic groups and over time, and discuss the implications of their findings.

Hispanics' Understanding of Social Security and the Implications for Retirement Security: A Qualitative Study
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 77, No. 3 (released August 2017)
by Lila Rabinovich, Janice Peterson, and Barbara A. Smith

This article discusses why effective outreach to Hispanics is important to improve their understanding of Social Security and enhance their retirement security. It examines Social Security literacy and preferred ways of receiving information about the program by using focus groups of three ancestries (Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban) and of English and Spanish speakers. This article is one of the first to research between-group differences and discuss their implications.

Why Researchers Now Rely on Surveys for Race Data on OASDI and SSI Programs: A Comparison of Four Major Surveys
Research and Statistics Note No. 2016-01 (released January 2016)
by Patricia P. Martin

Policy interest in the sociodemographic characteristics of beneficiaries of the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) programs is increasing as the minority share of the senior and disabled population grows. This note discusses using four major surveys—the Current Population Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the American Community Survey, and the Health and Retirement Study—to examine OASDI and SSI program use by race and ethnicity. Survey profiles highlight each survey's history, design, and methodology; the categories with which each collects race and ethnicity data; and their strengths and limitations for analyzing SSA's program data.

Retirement Income Among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the American Community Survey
Research and Statistics Note No. 2015-01 (released February 2015)
by John L. Murphy and Brent Huggins

The authors present data on annual retirement income of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIANs) from the American Community Survey and include separate analyses for AIANs of single-race and multiple-race backgrounds. The authors also compare retirement income of AIANs with that of whites and blacks and find that, overall, annual retirement income among all AIANs was significantly lower than that of whites and also of blacks.

Financial Literacy Among American Indians and Alaska Natives
Research and Statistics Note No. 2014-04 (released August 2014)
by John L. Murphy, Alicia Gourd, and Faith Begay

This study uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to analyze financial literacy within the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population. The HRS is a nationally representative longitudinal survey of individuals aged 50 or older and their spouses. The study compares AIAN financial literacy scores from an 18-question financial literacy module with those from other racial groups, all of whom score higher than the AIAN sample.

African Americans: Description of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Participation and Benefit Levels Using the American Community Survey
Research and Statistics Note No. 2014-01 (released January 2014)
by Patricia P. Martin and John L. Murphy

The authors use American Community Survey (ACS) data to compare Social Security and Supplemental Security Income program participation and benefit levels of African Americans with those of the general population. The ACS data show that African Americans are more likely to be Supplemental Security Income recipients, and less likely to be Social Security beneficiaries. Higher rates of poverty, disability, and mortality among African Americans mean that they are also more likely to rely on Social Security survivor and disability benefits than are other beneficiaries.

An Overview of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Context of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 4 (released November 2012)
by Nolan Smith-Kaprosy, Patricia P. Martin, and Kevin Whitman

The American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population is understudied in a variety of policy contexts. This article compares AIAN socioeconomic characteristics with those of the total population, focusing on patterns of adult Social Security benefit and Supplemental Security Income receipt. The analysis takes advantage of the relatively large AIAN sample size provided by the 2005–2009 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample.

Measures of Health and Economic Well-Being Among American Indians and Alaska Natives Aged 62 or Older in 2030
Research and Statistics Note No. 2012-02 (released February 2012)
by Amy Dunaway-Knight, Melissa A. Z. Knoll, Dave Shoffner, and Kevin Whitman

This Research and Statistics Note uses Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) projections to provide an overview of the demographic, health, and economic characteristics of the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population aged 62 or older in 2030. MINT projects that the AIAN population will fare worse than the overall aged population in 2030 according to measures of health status, work limitation status, disability status, lifetime earnings, per capita Social Security benefits, per capita income, per capita wealth, and poverty.

Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Retirement Prospects of Divorced Women
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 1 (released February 2012)
by Barbara A. Butrica and Karen E. Smith

The authors use the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6) to describe the likely characteristics, work experience, Social Security benefit status, and economic well-being of future divorced women at age 70, by race and ethnicity. Factors associated with higher retirement incomes include having a college degree; having a strong history of labor force attachment; receiving Social Security benefits; and having pensions, retirement accounts, or assets, regardless of race and ethnicity. However, because divorced black and Hispanic women are less likely than divorced white women to have these attributes, income sources, or assets, their projected average retirement incomes are lower than those of divorced white women.

The Decision to Exclude Agricultural and Domestic Workers from the 1935 Social Security Act
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 70, No. 4 (released November 2010)
by Larry DeWitt

The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded from coverage about half the workers in the American economy. Among the excluded groups were agricultural and domestic workers. Some scholars have attributed this exclusion to racial bias against African Americans. In this article, the author examines the evidence of the origins of the coverage exclusions in 1935 and concludes that this particular provision had nothing to do with race.

Examining Social Security Benefits as a Retirement Resource for Near-Retirees, by Race and Ethnicity, Nativity, and Disability Status
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 1 (released May 2009)
by Benjamin Bridges and Sharmila Choudhury

This article examines the distribution of Social Security benefits among recent cohorts of near-retirees, by (1) race and ethnicity, (2) nativity, and (3) disability status. Actual earnings history data help produce more accurate measures of benefits. The authors find that substantial differences in earnings levels and/or mortality levels among these subgroups interact with Social Security program provisions to produce sizable differences in values of benefit measures, such as Social Security wealth and earnings replacement rates.

Hispanics, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 2 (released February 2008)
by Patricia P. Martin

This article uses a relatively new data source—the American Community Survey (ACS) to document the economic and demographic characteristics of the Hispanic population in the United States. Although the article focuses on Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, other segments of the population are also examined. The ACS data show that the Hispanic population is significantly different from the overall population, particularly with regard to age distribution, education, and economic well-being.

Social Security as a Retirement Resource for Near-Retirees, by Race and Ethnicity, Nativity, Benefit Type, and Disability Status
ORES Working Paper No. 109 (released October 2007)
by Benjamin Bridges and Sharmila Choudhury

This paper analyzes Social Security benefits as a retirement resource for selected subgroups of current and recent cohorts of near-retirees. The paper examines the distribution of benefits among (1) several race-ethnic subgroups, (2) the native-born and the foreign-born, (3) worker, spouse, and survivor beneficiaries, and (4) the disabled and the nondisabled. We use improved data (actual earnings history data) to produce more accurate measures of benefits. We look at how the average values of several benefit measures such as Social Security wealth and earnings replacement rates differ among the selected subgroups and discuss reasons for these differences. We find that substantial differences in earnings levels and/or mortality levels among these subgroups interact with Social Security program provisions to produce sizable differences in the values of our benefit measures.

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Wealth and Asset Choices
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 4 (released June 2003)
by Sharmila Choudhury

Analysis of the wealth held by white, black, and Hispanic households points to differences in saving behavior, notably a disinclination on the part of minority households to invest in riskier, higher-yielding financial assets. This finding may account for some of the great disparities in wealth across racial and ethnic groups that cannot be explained by income and demographic factors.

Mortality Differentials by Race
ORES Working Paper No. 99 (released December 2002)
by Hilary Waldron

In the 2001 report of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security, the commission states that blacks "on average have both lower incomes and shorter life expectancies than other Americans." This paper examines the extent to which the shorter life expectancies of blacks are explained by differences between their average socioeconomic status and that of other Americans.

Estimates in this paper for men aged 25 to 64 show that about half of the difference in risk of death between blacks and all other races was explained by education level—the measure of socioeconomic status employed. At ages 65 to 90, black men were not found to have a significantly higher risk of death than men of all other races.

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Wealth Holdings and Portfolio Choices
ORES Working Paper No. 95 (released April 2002)
by Sharmila Choudhury

There are large differences in wealth across racial and ethnic groups, much of which remain unexplained even after controlling for income and demographic factors. This paper studies the issue of whether differences in saving behavior and rates of return on assets are a possible source of the differences in wealth. It uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to examine the differences in various components of aggregate wealth (including nonhousing equity, housing equity, financial assets, and risky assets) and to inspect differences in portfolio choices by race and ethnicity.

Descriptive tabulations of components of aggregate wealth and portfolio choices shown here point to differences between white and minority households in their saving behavior and choice of assets. These findings suggest that some of the large differences in wealth across racial and ethnic groups that remain unexplained even after controlling for income and demographic factors, may be attributable to the smaller participation in financial markets by minority households.

Identifying the Race or Ethnicity of SSI Recipients
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 4 (released April 2000)
by Charles G. Scott

Despite many decades of data collection, SSA has problems presenting data on the race and ethnicity of program beneficiaries. By using several statistical techniques, however, it is possible to make better use of the data at hand.

Minorities and Social Security: An Analysis of Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Current Program
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 2 (released September 1999)
by Alexa A. Hendley and Natasha F. Bilimoria

This report addresses how individuals from various racial and ethnic groups fare under the current Social Security system. It examines the relative importance of Social Security for these individuals and how several aspects of the system affect them.

Work Experience and Earnings of Middle-Aged Black and White Men, 1965–71
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 12 (released December 1980)
by Julian Abbott
Demographic and Economic Differences in Survivor Experiences of Nonwhite and White Families
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 2 (released February 1980)
by Gordon F. Sutton
National Survey of the Black Aged
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 41, No. 7 (released July 1978)
by Ethel Shanas and Gloria Heinemann
Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Elderly: Some Black-White Differences
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 40, No. 7 (released July 1977)
by Julian Abbott
Blacks and Social Security Benefits: Trends, 1960–73
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 38, No. 4 (released April 1975)
by Gayle B. Thompson
Economic Status of Black Persons: Findings from Survey of Newly Entitled Beneficiaries
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 9 (released September 1974)
by Leonard Rubin
Spanish-Surnamed OASDI Beneficiaries in the Southwest
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 36, No. 4 (released April 1973)
by Jack Schmulowitz
Negro-White Differences In Geographic Mobility
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 5 (released May 1967)
by Robert E. Marsh
The Aged Negro and His Income
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 2 (released February 1964)
by Mollie Orshansky
Negro Domestic Workers in Private Homes in Baltimore
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 10 (released October 1941)
by Erna Magnus
Characteristics and Taxable Wages of Negro Workers, 13 Selected Southern States, 1938
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 3 (released March 1941)
by Charles L. Franklin
Race, Nativity, Citizenship, Age, and Residence of 1,000,000 Recipients of Old-Age Assistance
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 6 (released June 1939)
Age, Sex, and Color of Applicants for Account Numbers
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 9 (released September 1938)