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Inheritances and the Distribution of Wealth Or Whatever Happened to the Great Inheritance Boom?

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  • Edward N. Wolff

    ()
    (New York University)

  • Maury Gittleman

    ()
    (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Abstract

We found that on average over the period from 1989 to 2007, 21 percent of American households at a given point of time received a wealth transfer and these accounted for 23 percent of their net worth. Over the lifetime, about 30 percent of households could expect to receive a wealth transfer and these would account for close to 40 percent of their net worth near time of death. However, there is little evidence of an inheritance “boom.” In fact, from 1989 to 2007, the share of households reporting a wealth transfer fell by 2.5 percentage points. The average value of inheritances received among all households did increase but at a slow pace, by 10 percent, and wealth transfers as a proportion of current net worth fell sharply over this period from 29 to 19 percent or by 10 percentage points. We also found, somewhat surprisingly, that inheritances and other wealth transfers tend to be equalizing in terms of the distribution of household wealth. Indeed, the addition of wealth transfers to other sources of household wealth has had a sizeable effect on reducing the inequality of wealth.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its series Working Papers with number 445.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bls:wpaper:ec110030

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Keywords: Inheritance; household wealth; inequality;

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  1. Menchik, Paul L & David, Martin, 1983. "Income Distribution, Lifetime Savings, and Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 672-90, September.
  2. PESTIEAU, Pierre, . "The role of gift and estate transfers in the United States and in Europe," CORE Discussion Papers RP -1606, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  3. Klevmarken, N.A., 2001. "On the Wealth Dynamics of Swedish Families 1984-1998," Papers 2001:17, Uppsala - Working Paper Series.
  4. William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1991. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Accumulation of Wealth," UCLA Economics Working Papers 624, UCLA Department of Economics.
  5. Kessler, Denis & Masson, Andre, 1989. "Bequest and Wealth Accumulation: Are Some Pieces of the Puzzle Missing?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 141-52, Summer.
  6. Laitner, John, 1992. "Random earnings differences, lifetime liquidity constraints, and altruistic intergenerational transfers," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 135-170, December.
  7. Jeffrey Brown & Scott Weisbenner, 2004. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings Behavior," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 181-204 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Edward N. Wolff & Ajit Zacharias & Thomas Masterson, 2012. "Trends In American Living Standards And Inequality, 1959–2007," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 58(2), pages 197-232, 06.
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  1. Inheritances and the Distribution of Wealth Or Whatever Happened to the Great Inheritance Boom?
    by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2011-09-08 17:52:04
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Cited by:
  1. Mathä, Thomas Y. & Porpiglia, Alessandro & Sierminska, Eva, 2011. "The immigrant/native wealth gap in Germany, Italy and Luxembourg," Working Paper Series 1302, European Central Bank.
  2. Facundo Alvaredo & Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2013. "The Top 1 Percent in International and Historical Perspective," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 3-20, Summer.
  3. Jurgen Faik & Uwe Fachinger, 2013. "The decomposition of well-being categories: An application to Germany," Working Papers 307, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
  4. Thomas Y. Mathä & Alessandro Porpiglia & Michael Ziegelmeyer, 2014. "Household wealth in the euro area: The importance of intergenerational transfers, homeownership and house price dynamics," BCL working papers 91, Central Bank of Luxembourg.
  5. Eleni Karagiannaki, 2011. "The magnitude and correlates of inter-vivos transfers in the UK," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 43898, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

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