Reforming Social Security and Improving the U.S. Retirement Saving System
Faculty Supervisor(s):

John Geanakoplos and Cormac O’Dea

Project and Position Description:

The position will entail working approximately half-time on each of two separate projects related to U.S. retirement security. The pre-doc will work with Yale professors Cormac O’Dea and John Geanakoplos, as well as professors Stephen Zeldes (Columbia) and Taha Choukhmane (MIT). 

Project I: Reforming Social Security

In this project, Professors John Geanakoplos (Yale) and Stephen Zeldes (Columbia), will analyze the U.S. Social Security system and develop a set of evidence-based proposals to reform it.  The project will include

  1. historical analysis – collecting historical data since the founding of the system in 1935, in part to understand and quantify the demographic and structural factors that have led the system to the brink of bankruptcy. These include changes in the number of children per family, changes in longevity, and most importantly, the “legacy costs” associated with the pay-as-you-go system, whereby early recipients of social security received full benefits after making small contributions.
  • theoretical analysis – examining and developing models of optimal risk-sharing and taxation, and
  • empirical analysis – using both individual-level microeconomic data and macroeconomic data to estimate model parameters, perform forecasts, and inform the design of potential policy changes.

Project II: Improving the U.S. Retirement Saving System

In this project, Professors Cormac O’Dea (Yale) and Taha Choukhmane (MIT) will study the saving behavior of US households, with a focus on better understanding how individuals plan for retirement. The authors have put together an extensive data set on the characteristics of 5,000 large US employer retirement plans over the years 2003-2018 and merged this into tax records. This has created an exciting new employee-employer linked data set. Work on the project will include:

  • theoretical analysis – examining and developing models of household decision-making with a particular focus on the extent to which spouses make their financial decisions independently and the extent to which they cooperate
  • empirical analysis – use of this new large linked data set to study a set of questions in the economics of household saving, including how savings decisions are made, and how their interaction with employer benefits and government treatment of retirement wealth contribute to wealth inequality

Specific duties for the two projects will include:

  • Collect, clean, link, and maintain economic datasets. Prepare detailed documentation.
  • Develop economics and statistical models and implement program codes in common statistical and mathematical programming languages (e.g., Stata, Python, MATLAB, R).
  • Perform data analyses, including regression analysis and forecasting
  • Perform case-based research, including work with detailed primary documents.
  • Assist with the writing of research papers, including the preparation of literature reviews
  • Assist with economic theory, including modeling socially efficient risk sharing between generations and optimal taxation
Requisite Skills and Qualifications:

The work will include both quantitative and qualitative analysis, involving the collection, coordination, and management of data and other research materials. This position provides an opportunity to gain experience in academic economics research and would be excellent preparation for a Ph.D. program in economics, finance, or related fields.

Applicants for the position are expected to have the following:

  • Programming experience in at least one statistical language (e.g. Stata or R) is required. Preference for those who also know either Python or MATLAB.
  • Familiarity with statistical tools such as linear regression is required.
  • Exceptional written and oral communications skills – a writing sample is required.


Applicants must have (prior to starting the position) a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in i) Economics or Finance or ii) a quantitative discipline such as Mathematics, Statistics, or Engineering with coursework in Economics and Finance.

Applicants will need to be eligible for Special Sworn Status in order to use the U.S. tax records for Project II.  This means they will need to have lived in the US for three years.

Special Application Instructions:


Link to Application Page: