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Nudging Timely Wage Reporting: Field Experimental Evidence from the SSI Program
Last registered on January 28, 2020

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Nudging Timely Wage Reporting: Field Experimental Evidence from the SSI Program
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0005351
Initial registration date
January 27, 2020
Last updated
January 28, 2020 10:21 AM EST
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Social Security Administration
PI Affiliation
Boston University - Questrom School of Business
PI Affiliation
Wharton School - University of Pennsylvania
PI Affiliation
Social Security Administration
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2015-04-15
End date
2015-12-31
Secondary IDs
Abstract
There is growing interest in the potential for interventions to motivate behavior in policy settings. We study a large-scale (n=50,000) field experiment implemented by the Social Security Administration on one such “nudge” aimed at increasing the timely and accurate self-reporting of wages by Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients. Sending a letter reminding SSI recipients of their wage reporting responsibilities increased the likelihood of reporting any earnings and the amount of reported earnings in the three months immediately following the intervention by a statistically significant amount. However, this immediate relative effect of the letter decays slightly over time. While we find a robust effect of the reminder letter, the specific content of the letter—providing social information or highlighting the salience of penalties—had no systematic effect on behavior. We estimate that the letters generated roughly $18.88 in savings on average per dollar spent.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Hemmeter, Jeffrey et al. 2020. "Nudging Timely Wage Reporting: Field Experimental Evidence from the SSI Program." AEA RCT Registry. January 28. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.5351-1.0.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients are mailed wage reporting reminder letters (with a control group that received no letter) that vary in their inclusion of simple language, providing either

1) simple information about reporting (included on all letters)
2) social information on reporting behavior
3) information increasing the saliency of the penalties for non-compliance, or
4) both social information and information on penalties.
Intervention Start Date
2015-04-15
Intervention End Date
2015-12-31
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
The primary outcomes of interest are: (i) any countable earned income reported and (ii) total dollar amount of reported countable earnings.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary outcomes of interest are: (i) the likelihood of having been employed during the 2015 calendar year, (ii) the dollar amount of W2 earnings reported for 2015, and (iii) the number of employers in the 2015 calendar year
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
From an experimental sample of 50,000 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, individuals were randomly assigned to one of five groups (n = 10,000 per group) :

1. Basic Intervention—a group that was sent a form letter reminding them of the need to report any information about earnings that might affect SSI payment amounts without our behavioral insights language added;

2. Social Information Intervention—a group that was sent a form letter identical to that of the “Basic Intervention” group but included additional information on the overall reporting behavior of SSI recipients (“Over 200,000 persons who receive SSI report new wages to us each month.”);

3. Salience of Penalties Intervention—a group that was sent a form letter identical to that of the “Basic Intervention” group but included additional information on the possible financial penalties that could be incurred if wages are unreported (“If you do not report your wages to us on purpose, we can stop your SSI payments.”);

4. Both Interventions—a group that was sent a form letter identical to that of the “Basic Intervention” group but both contained peer information and made salient the potential financial penalties from failure to report (“Over 200,000 persons who receive SSI report new wages to us each month. If you do not report your wages to us on purpose, we can stop your SSI payments.”); and

5. Control—a group that was not sent a letter and therefore served as a control condition.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done using Stata.
Randomization Unit
The unit of randomization is the individual.
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
50,000 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
50,000 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
There are 10,000 individuals per treatment arm (and 10,000 individuals in the control group) for a total of 50,000 individuals.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS