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Wealth Accumulation in the U.S.: Do Inheritances and Bequests Play a Significant Role?

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  • John Laitner

    (University of Michigan)

Abstract

This paper formulates an overlapping generations model with both life–cycle saving and altruistic bequests. For a given distribution of earning abilities, the model generates a stationary steady–state capital–to–labor ratio for the economy as a whole and a stationary distribution of net worth among households. We calibrate the model, using the 1995 Survey of Consumer Finances to fix the distribution of earning abilities, and using total 1995 U.S. wealth and Federal estate tax revenues to fix other key parameters. The analysis specifies its version of the Federal estate tax in detail, estimating the empirical degree of tax avoidance. Simulations show that the model can reproduce the high degree of wealth concentration evident in U.S. data. Most surprisingly, the analysis also suggests that the U.S. economy’s steady–state capital–to–output ratio will be insensitive to changes in the national debt and social security.

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File URL: http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp019.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp019.

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Length: 50 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp019

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References

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  1. Friedman, Benjamin M & Warshawsky, Mark J, 1990. "The Cost of Annuities: Implications for Saving Behavior and Bequests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 135-54, February.
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  4. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Lawrence H. Summers, 1980. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers in Aggregate Capital Accumulation," NBER Working Papers 0445, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Shinichi Nishiyama, 2000. "Measuring Time Preference and Parental Altruism: Technical Paper 2000-7," Working Papers 13333, Congressional Budget Office.
  6. Robert E. Hall, 1981. "Intertemporal Substitution in Consumption," NBER Working Papers 0720, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Gokhale, Jagadeesh & Kotlikoff, Laurence J. & Sefton, James & Weale, Martin, 2001. "Simulating the transmission of wealth inequality via bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 93-128, January.
  8. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1979. "An Equilibrium Theory of the Distribution of Income and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1153-89, December.
  9. Davies, James B, 1981. "Uncertain Lifetime, Consumption, and Dissaving in Retirement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(3), pages 561-77, June.
  10. Modigliani, Franco, 1988. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers and Life Cycle Saving in the Accumulation of Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 15-40, Spring.
  11. Wolff, Edward N, 1996. "International Comparisons of Wealth Inequality," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 42(4), pages 433-51, December.
  12. Benjamin M. Friedman & Mark Warshawsky, 1985. "The Cost of Annuities: Implications for Saving Behavior and Bequests," NBER Working Papers 1682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. B. Douglas Bernheim & Kyle Bagwell, 1989. "Is Everything Neutral?," NBER Working Papers 2086, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. James M. Poterba & Scott Weisbenner, 2000. "The Distributional Burden of Taxing Estates and Unrealized Capital Gains at the Time of Death," NBER Working Papers 7811, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. 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.
  16. Laitner, John & Juster, F Thomas, 1996. "New Evidence on Altruism: A Study of TIAA-CREF Retirees," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 893-908, September.
  17. Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1998. "Simulating the Privatization of Social Security in General Equilibrium," NBER Chapters, in: Privatizing Social Security, pages 265-311 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Joseph G. Altonji & Fumio Hayashi & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1995. "Parental Altruism and Inter Vivos Transfers: Theory and Evidence," Boston University - Institute for Economic Development 65, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development.
  19. Bernheim, B Douglas & Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages S151-82, July.
  20. Browning, Martin & Hansen, Lars Peter & Heckman, James J., 1999. "Micro data and general equilibrium models," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 8, pages 543-633 Elsevier.
  21. Charles T. Carlstrom & David Altig, 1999. "Marginal Tax Rates and Income Inequality in a Life-Cycle Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1197-1215, December.
  22. Modigliani, Franco, 1986. "Life Cycle, Individual Thrift, and the Wealth of Nations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 297-313, June.
  23. King, M A & Dicks-Mireaux, L-D L, 1982. "Asset Holdings and the Life-Cycle," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(366), pages 247-67, June.
  24. Abel, Andrew B, 1985. "Precautionary Saving and Accidental Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 777-91, September.
  25. Barro, Robert J., 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Scholarly Articles 3451399, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  26. Loury, Glenn C, 1981. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Distribution of Earnings," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(4), pages 843-67, June.
  27. Mervyn A. King & Louis Dicks-Mireaux, 1981. "Asset Holdings and the Life Cycle," NBER Working Papers 0614, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  28. Laitner, John, 1991. "Modeling Marital Connections among Family Lines," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(6), pages 1123-41, December.
  29. John Laitner, 2001. "Secular Changes in Wealth Inequality and Inheritance," Working Papers wp020, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  30. Laitner, John, 1993. "Intergenerational and interhousehold economic links," Handbook of Population and Family Economics, in: M. R. Rosenzweig & Stark, O. (ed.), Handbook of Population and Family Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 5, pages 189-238 Elsevier.
  31. Davies, James B, 1982. "The Relative Impact of Inheritance and Other Factors on Economic Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(3), pages 471-98, August.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Fang Yang, 2009. "Accounting for the Heterogeneity in Retirement Wealth," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2009-6, Center for Retirement Research, revised Mar 2009.
  2. Francisco Gomes & Alexander Michaelides, 2003. "Aggregate implications of defined benefit and defined contribution systems," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 24868, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  3. Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2002. "The Importance of Bequests and Life-Cycle Saving in Capital Accumulation: A New Answer," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 274-278, May.
  4. Selahattin Imrohoroglu & Aise Imrohoroglu, 2005. "Elimination of Social Security in a Dynastic Framework," 2005 Meeting Papers 928, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  5. Fang (Annie) Yang, 2006. "Consumption Over Life Cycle: How Different is Housing?," Discussion Papers 06-01, University at Albany, SUNY, Department of Economics.
  6. Christoph Winter, 2009. "Accounting for the changing role of family income in determining college entry," IEW - Working Papers 402, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich, revised Dec 2011.
  7. Shinichi Nishiyama, 2002. "Bequests, Inter Vivos Transfers, and Wealth Distribution," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(4), pages 892-931, October.
  8. Lutz Hendricks, 2005. "How Important is Discount Rate Heterogeneity for Wealth Inequality?," CESifo Working Paper Series 1604, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. John Laitner, 2001. "Wealth, Inequality, and Altruistic Bequests," Working Papers wp017, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  10. Anthony A. Smith, Jr., 2003. "The Research Agenda: Business Cycles and Inequality," EconomicDynamics Newsletter, Review of Economic Dynamics, vol. 4(2), April.
  11. Fang Yang, 2006. "Consumption along the life cycle: how different is housing?," Working Papers 635, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  12. John Laitner, 2003. "Labor Supply Responses to Social Security," Working Papers wp050, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  13. John Laitner, 2002. "Transition Paths and Social Security Reform," Working Papers wp025, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  14. John Laitner, 2004. "Precautionary Saving Over the Lifecycle," Working Papers wp083, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

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