The NBER Retirement and Disability Research Center (RDRC) has two competitive training programs for junior scholars. The RDRC is funded by a cooperative agreement with the Social Security Administration through its Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
In a typical year, the programs provide training and education for two pre-doctoral scholars and two post-doctoral fellows who are engaged in research focused on topics related to Social Security's Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs and related federal policies. Predoctoral scholars work at their home universities under the guidance of their dissertation advisors, while postdoctoral scholars work in-residence at the NBER. The postdoctoral fellowships are suitable for either new PhDs or junior faculty on sabbatical. The fellowships are closely coordinated with other NBER postdoctoral fellowships in complementary subject areas, including on the economics of aging (funded by the National Institute on Aging), the economics of an aging workforce (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), and long-run fiscal policy (funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation). The RDRC training programs and other research opportunities made available through the NBER have supported many young scholars in pursuing research relevant to Social Security programs and populations.
2019-20 PostDoctoral Training Fellows:
Amelia Hawkins obtained her PhD in economics from the University of Michigan in 2019 and is slated to start as Assistant Professor of Economics at Brandeis University following completion of the RDRC fellowship program. Hawkins has been working on a research paper titled, "Paying for Disability Insurance? Firm Cost Sharing and its Employment Consequences", co-authored with Salla Simola of Aalto University in Finland. Using Finnish employer-employee linked data to study the effects of experience rating in the Disability Insurance (DI) program, Hawkins and her co-author find that among firms that bear higher direct costs of the DI claims made by their own employees, fewer employees receive DI and current employees most at risk of entering the DI system stay at the firm for several additional years, but the composition of new employees shifts away from higher-disability-risk groups. Hawkins is also studying how social insurance and public assistance programs affect individual and firm decision making, with a particular focus on their implications for the labor market.
Michael Stepner obtained his PhD in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2019. Stepner will be joining the economics faculty at the University of Toronto in the summer of 2021, after spending next year as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. This year, he has examined the economic effects of long-term earnings losses from health shocks and job displacements, using data on 1.6 million layoﬀs and 1.2 million hospital stays linked to Canadian tax records. He finds that the reduction in tax liability associated with lower earnings and the availability of means-tested transfer programs provide substantial relief to those who experience earnings losses, more than formal unemployment or disability insurance. The effective insurance provided by the tax and transfer system is important for reducing the risk of catastrophic income losses and mitigating inequality in the income risks of layoﬀs and hospitalizations. More broadly, Stepner's research studies the interactions between social insurance, inequality and health. In related work, he has examined the stark relationship between income and life expectancy, and measured how, by providing private short-term disability insurance plans, employers increase their workers' take-up of government long-term disability benefits.
2019-20 PreDoctoral Training Fellows:
Peter Maxted is a fourth-year PhD student in the economics program at Harvard University. Maxted has been working on a project titled "Estimating Discount Functions with Consumption Choices over the Lifecycle" with David Laibson, Andrea Repetto, and Jeremy Tobacman. This research estimates the time preferences of American households by combining field data on wealth accumulation with a lifecycle model. The model incorporates a number of important factors that affect household consumption-savings decisions, such as uncertain future labor income, liquid and illiquid assets, revolving credit, retirement, and mortality. The research finds that present bias is necessary to explain the joint accumulation of credit card debt and illiquid savings, which characterizes the balance sheet of most American households. Beyond this project, Maxted's research interests span household finance, behavioral economics, and macroeconomics, focusing particularly on household consumption-savings decisions over the lifecycle.
Daniel Prinz is a fifth-year PhD student in the economics track of the Health Policy Program at Harvard University. Prinz's research develops new evidence on the health of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients and the kinds of health events that precipitate SSDI receipt among low-income Americans. Prinz connects the Medicaid records of low-income Americans before disability to their Medicaid records after a Supplemental Security Income award and their Medicare records after an SSDI award. He is investigating what the health of SSDI recipients looks like before they receive SSDI, for example whether receipt is preceded by gradually declining health or by major health shocks. Prinz is broadly interested in the economics of social insurance programs, and plans in the future to conduct empirical research on disability insurance programs in the US and the Netherlands and on Medicaid and Medicare.
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New NBER affiliates are appointed through a highly competitive process that begins with a call for nominations in January. Candidates are evaluated based on their research records and their capacity to contribute to the NBER's activities by program directors and steering committees. New affiliates must hold primary academic appointments in North America. On January 1, 2020, there were 1,581 NBER-affiliated researchers based at 180 institutions.