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Actuaries and Social Security: A Vital Partnership

Actuaries and Social Security have a long-standing partnership when it comes to helping manage risk and ensure long-term financial stability. 

Actuaries Social Security Partnership

Social Security provides essential income security for retirees, survivors, and those with disabilities, and relies on expert analysis of demographic and financial data to make optimal investment decisions. 

Actuaries provide this expertise in the form of sound advice and trustworthy actuarial science. They are also responsible for projections of life expectancy, population trends, and more – all of which is critical to helping manage Social Security trust fund investments and better protect the elderly. 

Actuaries and Social Security may not be the most glamorous of partners, but their synergy is vital in ensuring the stability of our nation's retirement system.

What Do Actuaries Do?

Actuaries are professionals who specialize in the assessment and management of financial risk. 

The median annual pay for actuaries in the United States is $105,900 ($50.91/hr), as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 21% growth in actuary jobs between 2021 and 2031. Actuaries are predicted to be in demand as organizations have access to more data and better analysis tools.

Actuaries are professionals who use mathematics, statistics and financial theory to analyze the risk of potential events and help businesses and clients develop policies that minimize the cost of that risk. 

Actuaries evaluate the probability of events such as death, sickness, injury, disability, and loss of property from theft or natural disasters. In the process, they help design insurance policies and pension plans to manage these risks. 

Their services often include preparing balance sheets, forecasting future costs and investing reserves. They may also provide advice on mergers and acquisitions, company valuations, and other business strategies.

Are Actuaries Qualified to Analyze Annuity-Specific Risks?

Before joining the workforce, actuaries complete a rigorous academic program. Actuaries usually start with four-year degrees in mathematics, statistics, or actuarial science.

They learn many essential concepts from studying economics, corporate finance, and computer science. Actuaries forecast using spreadsheets, databases, and modeling software.

They have the necessary qualifications and experience to carry out a thorough assessment of annuity investments, including an understanding of the legal framework, the product features and the exposure to investment risks. 

Additionally, they have the skills and knowledge to employ actuarial science to identify, analyze and evaluate annuity-specific risks, such as longevity, mortality, inflation and investment returns. 

Social Security-Specific Actuarial Models 

Actuarial models used in Social Security focus on two primary factors: longevity risk and interest rate risk. 

Longevity risk evaluates how long an individual is expected to live, which directly impacts an individual's Social Security benefits. 

Interest rate risk involves the fluctuations of long-term interest rates, which determines the expected return on investments and the amount of money earned by the Social Security trust fund. 

Small-group occupational pension plans utilize many exogenous and independent demographic and economic components and assumptions used in public pension plan demographic and financial projections.

  1. Demographic Factors

  • The Growth Rate of the Insured Population

  • Rates of Invalidity

  • Rates of Mortality

  • How old the kids are

  1. Economic Factors

  • Beginning wage scale based on age and gender

  • The rate of rise in insured salaries

  • Rates of inflation

  • Trends in Interest Rates over the Long Term

  • contributor density over time

  1. Variables of Social (Behavioral) Nature

  • Increases in marriage rates

  • Marriage partners' ages might be somewhat dissimilar.

  • .Age distributions of retirees

  • The average age distribution of new participants.

Actuaries’ Role in Social Security

From the start, a social security program needs an actuary's study and guidance on being solvent. In actuary jobs, one needs to estimate startup costs, evaluate the financial health and anticipate future changes.

  1. Evaluating a Proposed Plan of Action

At the outset of a plan, the actuarial valuation should address one of two issues.

  • How much security can be supplied with a certain amount of money?

  • How much money is required to guarantee a certain degree of protection?

Actuaries evaluate social security schemes' legal basis due to program unpredictability. It might take some time for the government, workers, and employers to get down and negotiate their respective interests.

Stakeholders usually have distinct needs for benefit protection and risk funding. The actuary quantifies the plans' long-term financial effects and informs policy decisions. Valuing a new scheme is difficult since assumptions cannot be based on the scheme's experience.

  1. Actual Versus Legal Coverage

If you are wondering, "Who will be protected?" Actuaries are instrumental in specifying and implementing protective measures for those who require coverage. Insurance policies may be different for each risk.

Some countries started by covering government personnel. But many have increasingly included private sector and independent contractors.

Progressive coverage adapts administrative structure for contribution compliance and population growth. Public workers eliminate the danger of noncompliance. 

Things may be different for other categories of employees. The actuary's demographic data collection, coverage, and compliance assumptions will be affected.

  1. Benefit Provisions

When asked, "How will benefits be safeguarded?" Crafted by experts in the field of actuarial science and policy analysis, complex social security plans are elegantly structured with standard regulations and figures. The actuary will need to make adjustments to the following aspects of the design to keep the scheme's costs within reason:

  • How much of a worker's salary will be subject to contributions and utilized to determine benefits?

  • Where do you stand on the ideal earnings replacement rate for calculating benefits?

  • Should the benefit formula permit cross-subsidization between households of different income levels?

  • What is the contribution term to be eligible for the different benefits?

  • How old is the average retirement age?

  • In what manner should benefits be indexed?


Since these issues will affect program costs, the actuary is asked to price alternative benefit packages. The actuary must verify claims and balance pricey benefits and rising program costs.

At this point, it is common practice to learn about methods used in other nations. Policy analysts may understand more about the breadth of potential design elements from such comparisons. It's also possible to know from, and ideally avoid, the blunders committed in other nations.

  1. Financing Provisions

To whom or to what extent does the bill fall? Social insurance schemes are funded mainly through contributions, asset returns, and government subsidies. Except for employment injury programs, employers and employees usually contribute equally.

Comparing contribution schedules and finance sources with actuarial valuation expenditure predictions. If lawmakers prioritize salary contribution caps, the actuary must create cost-effective benefit plans.

The actuary must recommend many contribution rate strategies if the main aim is to benefit security. The scheme's expenses will rise as it matures, but the advantages will be worthwhile in the long run. The actuary informs stakeholders of predicted contribution rate increases when considering a new plan.

Financial backers may assess their risk based on contribution rates from the scheme's actuarial review. The report informs the public about social security revenues and how they will be invested to meet future benefit obligations.

Actuaries' Role in Social Security Reform

Countries have changed their social security systems due to aging populations, program difficulties, financial transition, and structural adjustment.

The role of actuarial firms is crucial to social security legislation in the UK, the US, and Canada. Although, other countries' reform initiatives have only sometimes included them.

Actuarial research on social security plan financial assessments should guide reforms. 

  • Potential future expenses under the current strategy

  • Alternatives for reorienting one's life

  • Pricing for several preferred alternatives

  • Planning and funding the interim measures

  • In-depth analysis of the proposed new system to be used in conjunction with any pending legislation


The consequences for the annuity market, the need for regulation of the second pillar, and the design of the financed second pillar (complementary schemes, generally now set up as defined contribution individual accounts) should be discussed with an actuary.

The emphasis on the macroeconomic impacts of social security and the relationship with government spending is another reason actuaries have yet to be recognized as the primary actors in some of these changes.

It differs from the role social security plays in economic management that actuaries often examine. Actuaries must show that they understand the broader economic impact to play a larger role in social security reform.

They may need to supplement their models of the social security scheme with simple macroeconomic models to illustrate the interplay between the social security, tax, and private pension systems.

The Process of Actuarial Valuation

Actuarial valuation is the process of assessing a company's financial status and risk management capabilities. It involves analyzing financial statements, measuring liabilities, reserving funds to pay off future claims, and predicting future cash flows. Actuarial valuations play a major role in the insurance industry where they are used to assess liabilities, set premium rates, and develop new products.

The following procedures are provided in as close to the sequence in which they are typically performed as is practicable. The purpose of the valuation and when it occurs in the scheme's lifetime affect how significant each step is.

It may take more time to establish the statistical foundation and construct the model needed to evaluate a new plan. On the other hand, when valuing a system that has been around for a while, it is common practice to focus more on improving the actuarial assumptions and looking at the plan's historical data.

  1. Involvement in Preparatory Activities

At first, the goals and boundaries of the actuarial valuation are established. An actuarial evaluation or a change to the plan are two possible valuation methods.

A regular actuarial review may be part of the terms of reference and other topics like benefit changes and finance strategy. One basic scenario is chosen and used as the reference to facilitate comparisons between the numerous to-be-modelled situations.

The valuation date is set in stone, and the duration of the projection period is established with the valuation's aims.

  1. Gathering of Data and Analysis

The actuary then starts gathering the raw material from which the model will be constructed. The administrative files of the scheme are the primary source of information, while the national statistical office or other sources provide data on broader demographic and economic characteristics.

The scheme's provisions and the model's structure should be reflected in the data format and amount of disaggregation. Validation tests are carried out, and the results are examined for consistency.

The actuary may conduct surveys to supplement incomplete, inaccurate, or inadequate data. A review of the historical data and a comparison to the forecasts in the previous report may be achieved via financial statements, and extra information gathered on the different components of income and expenditure.

Significant discrepancies need an investigation into their root causes before any actuarial assumptions or parameters can be established. Comparing the scheme's present state to its condition as of the latest valuation date may double as a test of the model's accuracy.


The Actuarial Activities Section of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) is always abuzz. Not only does it feature actuaries, but statisticians, economists, and other experts focused on social security's financial aspects also make up a substantial portion of its membership. 

Actuaries and social security are a vital partnership that help shape the financial and retirement planning strategies of millions of people around the world. Actuaries use their knowledge, expertise, and data analysis skills to ensure that individuals’ retirements are properly funded and that appropriate cost-benefit decisions are made. 

The work of actuaries is essential for social security programs, as it helps build a more secure future for all citizens. Together, this powerful partnership creates a better future for everyone who will one day reap its rewards.

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"Actuaries and Social Security: A Vital Partnership" was written by Mary under the Finance / Wealth category. It has been read 615 times and generated 2 comments. The article was created on and updated on 10 February 2023.
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