How Are Social Security Numbers Generated?

••• Image by, courtesy of Richard Eriksson

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Social Security was established in 1937 to collect funds from workers that are then used to generate payments for medical care, retirement and disability programs. Workers in the U.S. are required to carry Social Security or identification numbers issued according to an overall numbering system.


All Social Security numbers include three digits, a dash, a two-digit set of numbers, another dash, and a final set of four digits. The official term used by the Social Security Administration to describe the numbering is "enumeration."

Area Number

The first set of three digits in a Social Security number comprise a block called the "area number." This number indicates a geographic region. Residents of the northeast have the lowest numbers.

Group Number

The second set of numbers, two digits set off by dashes, is the "group number." These digits are assigned by the SSA using a set formula for each state that alternates between odd and even numbers.

Serial Number

The last group of four digits create a simple "serial number" that provides additional digits so that identifications are unique. The number, which ranges from 0001 through 9999, is issued randomly according to available combinations at the time of assignment.


The SSA reports that many number myths exist. One of these holds that the "group" digits includes some sort of racial profiling. The SSA categorically denies any ties with the numbers and the applicants' race.


About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.

Photo Credits

  • Image by, courtesy of Richard Eriksson