Improving Public Understanding of OASI

Last registered on August 05, 2021


Trial Information

General Information

Improving Public Understanding of OASI
Initial registration date
August 02, 2021
Last updated
August 05, 2021, 5:25 AM EDT



Primary Investigator

Georgetown University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Georgetown University
PI Affiliation
Georgetown University

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Many people express doubts about the longevity of the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust funds, and specifically whether they will receive benefits when they retire. Half of individuals aged 51–64 say they worry a great deal about the solvency of the fund. Such skepticism may be problematic if it consolidates among younger people who pay into the fund today, but hold doubts about its longevity. To address this problem, we test whether information and communication interventions improve understanding of the issue and increase confidence in the Social Security Administration. We implement a two-wave survey-based experiment among a representative sample of the US population and examine the efficacy of various strategies by comparing them against current modes of communication by the Social Security Administration and Social Security Trustees. In particular, we contrast Social Security’s current messaging approach with a personalized financial information treatment where people are exposed to the online Social Security retirement calculator.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the Federal Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Herd, Pamela, Sebastian Jilke and Donald Moynihan. 2021. "Improving Public Understanding of OASI." AEA RCT Registry. August 05.
Experimental Details


The final experimental design included three experimental conditions, randomly allocated between respondents:

(1) a control group that includes a simple statement about the OASI funds,
(2) a status-quo condition which is is modelled after Social Security “message to the public”, and
(3) a personalized information treatment condition which includes the same text as in the control condition plus an encouragement to use the SSA benefit calculator to receive respondent's predicted benefits. Condition 3 also asked respondents for their estimated monthly benefits as provided by the calculator, and included an image to aid using the calculator correctly.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
(1) Knowledge and confidence of knowledge about personal retirement benefit amount;
(2) Views towards Social Security.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
(1) Knowledge and confidence of knowledge about personal retirement benefit amount:
-What approximate Social Security retirement benefit amount per month do you expect to receive when you plan to retire?
-How confident are you in your prediction above?

(2) Views towards Social Security:
-Five-item bureaucratic reputation scale (Lee and Van Ryzin 2020)
-Overall, is your view of the Social Security administration: (Very favorable – Very unfavorable)
-How confident are you that Social Security retirement benefits will be there for you when you retire
-In general, do you think we spend too much money, about the right amount, or not enough money on Social security retirement benefits?

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The experiment will be embedded in a nationally representative sample of US residents aged 18-60 years. AmeriSpeaks is an internet probability based national study run by NORC at the University of Chicago (NORC 2021). Our study will draw on a random sample of 1,000 individuals from the panel, between the ages of 18 and 60. We will also exclude those receiving Social Security benefits. The results will be weighted, based on Current Population Survey data, to ensure representativeness.

The survey experimental design includes three experimental conditions: (1) a control group, (2) a status-quo condition, and (3) a personalized information treatment condition. Pre-treatment, respondents will be asked questions to assess their financial literacy, date-of-birth and anticipated retirement date. The AmeriSpeak panel also includes basic demographic data including race, age, educational attainment, and income. One week after the actual survey experiment, a follow-up survey will be distributed to respondents to assess longevity of treatment effects. Both waves 1 and 2 will have the same outcome measures, but the experimental materials are only included on the first wave.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done by thought he survey software which randomly allocates respondents into control and treatment conditions in wave #1.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
1,000 (wave #1)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
333 respondents
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Georgetown University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials