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Consumption Smoothing Among Working-Class American Families Before Social Insurance

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  • James, J.A.
  • Palumbo, M.G.
  • Thomas, M.

Abstract

This paper examines whether the saving decisions among a large, unique sample of working-class American families around the turn of the twentieth century are consistent with consumption smoothing tendencies in the spirit of the permanent income hypothesis. We develop an econometric model to decompose each family's reported income realization into an expected and an unexpected components, then we estimate marginal propensities to save for each income component. The estimated regression coefficients are remarkably similar to point estimates available from other recent research based on quite different contemporary household data. Marginal propensities to save out of unexpected income shocks are large relative to propensities based on expected income movements, though the former lie much below one and the latter much above zero. Thus, while these data readily reject strict parameterizations of the permanent income hypothesis, we nonetheless conclude that families's saving decisions look quite "modern."

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Houston - Department of Economics in its series Papers with number 98-05.

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Length: 39 pages
Date of creation: 1998
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fth:housto:98-05

Contact details of provider:
Postal: UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON, DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS, COLLEGE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, HOUSTON TEXAS 77023 U.S.A.
Web page: http://www.class.uh.edu/econ/
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Keywords: UNEMPLOYMENT ; INCOME ; SAVINGS;

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References

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  1. Kantor, Shawn Everett & Fishback, Price V, 1996. "Precautionary Saving, Insurance, and the Origins of Workers' Compensation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 419-42, April.
  2. Luigi Pistaferri, 1998. "Superior Information, Income Shocks and the Permanent Income Hypothesis," CSEF Working Papers 07, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
  3. Deaton, Angus, 1992. "Understanding Consumption," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288244.
  4. Deaton, Angus, 1991. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1221-48, September.
  5. Marjorie A. Flavin, 1991. "The Joint Consumption/Asset Demand Decision: A Case Study in Robust Estimation," NBER Working Papers 3802, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Paxson, Christina H, 1992. "Using Weather Variability to Estimate the Response of Savings to Transitory Income in Thailand," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 15-33, March.
  7. Palumbo, M.G., 1998. "Estimating the Effects of Earnings Uncertainty on Families's Saving and Insurance Decisions," Papers 98-07, Houston - Department of Economics.
  8. Carroll, Christopher D, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55, February.
  9. Alessie, Rob & Lusardi, Annamaria, 1997. "Saving and income smoothing: Evidence from panel data," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(7), pages 1251-1279, July.
  10. Keyssar,Alexander, 1986. "Out of Work," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521297677, October.
  11. James, John A, 1993. "Changes in Economic Instability in 19th-Century America," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 710-31, September.
  12. Carter, Susan B. & Sutch, Richard, 1996. "Myth of the Industrial Scrap Heap: A Revisionist View of Turn-of-the-Century American Retirement," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(01), pages 5-38, March.
  13. Hubbard, R. Glenn & Skinner, Jonathan & Zeldes, Stephen P., 1994. "The importance of precautionary motives in explaining individual and aggregate saving," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 59-125, June.
  14. Olney, Martha L., 1998. "When Your Word Is Not Enough: Race, Collateral, and Household Credit," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 408-431, June.
  15. Romer, Christina, 1986. "Spurious Volatility in Historical Unemployment Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(1), pages 1-37, February.
  16. Robert M. Townsend, 1995. "Consumption Insurance: An Evaluation of Risk-Bearing Systems in Low-Income Economies," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 83-102, Summer.
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