March 29, 2022

Labor Supply Effects of Survivor Insurance: Evidence from Restricted Access to Survivor Benefits in the Netherlands

The ANW reform of 1996 in the Netherlands reduced the eligibility to survivor benefits for cohorts born after 1950. We find an increase in personal income (+23%) and labor force participation (+16%) for the widowers three years after spousal death. We also find an increase in the take up of welfare and disability benefits (+1.5pp +6pp and +6pp, respectively) as a result of the reform. These are the key findings of recent research on the impact of survival insurance on labor market outcomes for widows.

In this Discussion Paper, we evaluate the effect of changes in (public) survivor insurance on surviving spouses’ labor supply. We use a natural experiment to estimate the effect: the cut in eligibility for first pillar survivor insurance benefits on the labor supply of widowers, implemented in 1996. 

The reform considerably reduced eligibility to survivor benefits for individuals born after January 1st, 1950. This provides a clean quasi-experimental setting as it induced a large and discontinuous drop in survivor benefits for adjacent birth cohorts. Using a regression discontinuity approach and high quality administrative data on the full universe of Dutch widows, we estimate the causal effect of survivors benefits on female income and labor force participation, as well as substitution towards other forms of social insurance.