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Why Parents Play Favorites: Explanations for Unequal Bequests

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  • Audrey Light

    ()

  • Kathleen McGarry

Abstract

Economists have invested a great deal of effort in trying to understand the motivation for family transfers, yet recent empirical work testing the seemingly appealing models of altruism and exchange has led to decidedly mixed results. A major stumbling block has been the lack of adequate data. We take a fresh look at the issue using responses to an innovative survey question that directly asks mother about the planned division of their estates. We find that both altruism and exchange are frequently offered as explanations of behavior and are of nearly equal importance. Furthermore, the explanations are consistent with observable characteristics of the mother, lending support to the validity of the question. We also find that among step or adopted families, genetic ties play an important role. Because motivating factors appear to differ across families the lack of a consensus among previous researchers about motives ought not to be surprising.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Ohio State University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 03-01.

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Date of creation: Feb 2003
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Handle: RePEc:osu:osuewp:03-01

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  1. Cox, Donald & Stark, Oded, 2004. "On The Demand For Grandchildren: Tied Transfers And The Demonstration Effect," Discussion Papers 18751, University of Bonn, Center for Development Research (ZEF).
  2. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 0042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. John Laitner & F. Thomas Juster, 1993. "New evidence on altruism: a study of TIAA-CREF retirees," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 86, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Michael D. Hurd & Kathleen McGarry, 1997. "The Predictive Validity of Subjective Probabilities of Survival," NBER Working Papers 6193, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. McGarry, K. & Schoeni, R.F., 1995. "Transfer Behavior With the Family: Results from the Asset and Health Dynamics Survey," Papers 95-09, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
  6. Stefan Hochguertel & Henry Ohlsson, 2009. "Compensatory inter vivos gifts," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(6), pages 993-1023.
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  8. Wilhelm, M.O., 1990. "Bequest Behavior And The Effect Of Heirs' Earnings: Testing The Altruistic Model Of Bequests," Papers 9-90-12, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  9. Cox, Donald & Rank, Mark R, 1992. "Inter-vivos Transfers and Intergenerational Exchange," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(2), pages 305-14, May.
  10. Audrey Light & Kathleen McGarry, 2003. "Why Parents Play Favorites: Explanations for Unequal Bequests," Working Papers 03-01, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
  11. Robert F. Schoeni, 2000. "Support Networks within the Family As a Public Good Problem," Working Papers 00-06, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  12. Altonji, Joseph G & Hayashi, Fumio & Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1992. "Is the Extended Family Altruistically Linked? Direct Tests Using Micro Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1177-98, December.
  13. Laitner, J. & Ohlsson, H., 1998. "Bequest Motives: a Comparison of Sweden and the United States," Papers 1998:16, Uppsala - Working Paper Series.
  14. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
  15. Kathleen McGarry, 2000. "Testing Parental Altruism: Implications of a Dynamic Model," NBER Working Papers 7593, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Tomes, Nigel, 1981. "The Family, Inheritance, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 928-58, October.
  17. Kathleen McGarry & Robert F. Schoeni, 1994. "Transfer Behavior: Measurement and the Redistribution of Resources within the Family," NBER Working Papers 4607, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. B. Douglas Bernheim & Sergei Severinov, 2000. "Bequests as Signals: An Explanation for the Equal Division Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 7791, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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. Dunn, Thomas A. & Phillips, John W., 1997. "The timing and division of parental transfers to children," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 135-137, February.
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  23. Joseph G. Altonji & Fumio Hayashi & Laurence Kotlikoff, 1995. "Parental Altruism and Inter Vivos Transfers: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 5378, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Menchik, Paul L, 1980. "Primogeniture, Equal Sharing, and the U. S. Distribution of Wealth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(2), pages 299-316, March.
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  26. McGarry, K & Schoeni, R-F, 1996. "Measurement and the Redistribution of Resources Within the Family," Papers 96-11, RAND - Reprint Series.
  27. repec:att:wimass:8905 is not listed on IDEAS
  28. Donald Cox, 2001. "How Do People Decide to Allocate Transfers Among Family Members?," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 514, Boston College Department of Economics.
  29. Andreoni, James, 1989. "Giving with Impure Altruism: Applications to Charity and Ricardian Equivalence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1447-58, December.
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