The Alignment Between Self-Reported and Administrative Measures of Application to and Receipt of Federal Disability Benefits in the Health and Retirement Study

The Alignment Between Self-Reported and Administrative Measures of Application to and Receipt of Federal Disability Benefits in the Health and Retirement Study

Published: Dec 14, 2021
Publisher: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
Associated Project

Retirement and Disability Research Consortium

Time frame: 2018-2023

Prepared for:

Social Security Administration

Key Findings
  • Older cohorts in the HRS are more likely than younger ones to have consented to having their HRS data linked to SSA administrative records. Younger cohorts, however, are more likely to have consented in recent years, which is necessary to have been included in HRS’s prospective permission scheme and to have consented to certain file linkages that may be useful to researchers, including the ones we used in our analysis.
  • Aggregate self-reported percentages of application and receipt of SSDI and SSI are lower than those reported in HRS-SSA administrative data at nearly all ages, but rates of new applications and receipt of benefits (ie. incidence) are similar between the ages of entering the HRS survey (51-56) through SSA’s full retirement age.
  • There are differences in SSDI and SSI application and receipt shares between HRS self-reports and administrative data across birth cohorts in the survey, but no systematic pattern in the difference between the two sources of information across all of the survey cohorts.
  • Individual misreporting represents a minority of total cases but is more common relative to the share of older adults with interactions with the SSDI and SSI programs. Misreports range from approximately 4 percent to 12 percent of total respondents, depending on the program and age of respondents. False negatives (the respondent reports no application or receipt while the SSA data indicates application or receipt) tend to be more common than false positives, especially at older ages.
  • The demographic, socioeconomic, and health characteristics of respondents who incorrectly report their benefits receipt (relative to SSA information) are different from respondents whose self-reports align with administrative records. Those differences vary by receipt of SSDI or SSI, but include respondent age, race, income, assets, education, health conditions, and health behaviors.

Longitudinal surveys offer a richness for studying the experiences of disability program applicants and recipients that is not available from administrative data alone. Yet, a body of research suggests that individuals may not accurately report their receipt of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In this paper, we examine the differences between self-reported and administrative records of applications to and receipt of SSDI and SSI. We use data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), linked to the Social Security Administration’s Form 831 records on initial applications and Disability Analysis File (DAF) on benefit receipt. We compare application and receipt prevalence by calendar year, HRS sampling cohort, and age from 51 years through full retirement age (FRA). The results from this paper may help other researchers decide whether self-reports are suitable for their research using the HRS, whether the administrative reports might be better, and the potential biases from one source relative to the other.

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