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Intergenerational transfers and the accumulation of wealth

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  • W. G. Gale
  • J. K. Scholz

Abstract

This paper provides evidence on the role of intergenerational transfers as a source of wealth. We use household data on transfers to provide direct estimates of transfer wealth, as we distinguish between intended transfers (for example, gifts to other households) and possible unintended transfers (bequests). We estimate that intended transfers account for at least 20 percent of net worth, and possibly significantly more. Thus a significant portion of U.S. wealth accumulation cannot be explained by the life-cycle model (according to which wealth is accumulated and consumed within a lifetime), even when the model is augmented to allow for bequests. We also show, contrary to many studies of transfers that focus only on bequests, that transfers between living persons are an important component of aggregate transfers.

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Paper provided by University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty in its series Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers with number 1019-93.

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Handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1019-93

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  1. Bernheim, B Douglas & Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H, 1985. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(6), pages 1045-76, December.
  2. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "The Contribution of Intergenerational Transfers to Total Wealth: A Reply," NBER Working Papers 1827, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Auerbach, A.J. & Kotlikoff, L.J. & Weil, D.N., 1992. "The Increasing Annuitization of the Elderly - Estimates and Implications for Intergenerational Transfers, Inequality and National Saving," Papers 6, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  7. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1988. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 41-58, Spring.
  8. Cox, Donald, 1990. "Intergenerational Transfers and Liquidity Constraints," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 187-217, February.
  9. 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.
  10. Kurz, Mordecai, 1984. "Capital Accumulation and the Characteristics of Private Inter-Generational Transfers," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 51(201), pages 1-22, February.
  11. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Avia Spivak, 1979. "The Family as an Incomplete Annuities Market," NBER Working Papers 0362, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Hayashi, Fumio & Ando, Albert & Ferris, Richard, 1988. "Life cycle and bequest savings A study of Japanese and U.S. households based on data from the 1984 NSFIE and the 1983 survey of consumer finances," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 450-491, December.
  13. Hurd, Michael D, 1989. "Mortality Risk and Bequests," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(4), pages 779-813, July.
  14. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1987. "Does the Estate Tax Raise Revenue?," NBER Working Papers 2087, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Lord, William & Rangazas, Peter, 1991. "Savings and Wealth in Models with Altruistic Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 289-96, March.
  16. Aaron, Henry J. & Munnell, Alicia H., 1992. "Reassessing the Role for Wealth Transfer Taxes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 45(2), pages 119-43, June.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Michael R. Darby, 1977. "The Effects of Social Security on Income and the Capital Stock," UCLA Economics Working Papers 095A, UCLA Department of Economics.
  20. Hurd, Michael D, 1987. "Savings of the Elderly and Desired Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 298-312, June.
  21. Cox, Donald, 1987. "Motives for Private Income Transfers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(3), pages 508-46, June.
  22. Abel, Andrew B, 1985. "Precautionary Saving and Accidental Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 777-91, September.
  23. Michael D. Hurd & B. Gabriela Mundaca, 1989. "The Importance of Gifts and Inheritances Among the Affluent," NBER Chapters, in: The Measurement of Saving, Investment, and Wealth, pages 737-764 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1991. "How Strong Are Bequest Motives? Evidence Based on Estimates of the Demand for Life Insurance and Annuities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 899-927, October.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. Donald Cox & Fredric Raines, 1985. "Interfamily Transfers and Income Redistribution," NBER Chapters, in: Horizontal Equity, Uncertainty, and Economic Well-Being, pages 393-426 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  28. White, Betsy Buttrill, 1978. "Empirical Tests of the Life Cycle Hypothesis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(4), pages 547-60, September.
  29. 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.
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