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Wealth Distribution and Social Mobility in the US: A Quantitative Approach

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  • Jess Benhabib
  • Alberto Bisin
  • Mi Luo

Abstract

We quantitatively identify the factors that drive wealth dynamics in the United States and are consistent with its skewed cross-sectional distribution and with social mobility. We concentrate on three critical factors: (i) skewed earnings, (ii) differential saving rates across wealth levels, and (iii) stochastic idiosyncratic returns to wealth. All of these are fundamental for matching both distribution and mobility. The stochastic process for returns which best fits the cross-sectional distribution of wealth and social mobility in the United States shares several statistical properties with those of the returns to wealth uncovered by Fagereng et al. (2017) from tax records in Norway.

Suggested Citation

  • Jess Benhabib & Alberto Bisin & Mi Luo, 2019. "Wealth Distribution and Social Mobility in the US: A Quantitative Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(5), pages 1623-1647, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:109:y:2019:i:5:p:1623-47
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20151684
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Per Krusell & Anthony Smith & Joachim Hubmer, 2015. "The historical evolution of the wealth distribution: A quantitative-theoretic investigation," 2015 Meeting Papers 1406, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    2. Andreas Fagereng & Luigi Guiso & Davide Malacrino & Luigi Pistaferri, 2020. "Heterogeneity and Persistence in Returns to Wealth," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(1), pages 115-170, January.
    3. Atif R. Mian & Ludwig Straub & Amir Sufi, 2020. "Indebted Demand," NBER Working Papers 26940, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Baris Kaymak & CHEUK SHING LEUNG & Markus Poschke, 2018. "Accounting for the determinants of wealth concentration in the US," 2018 Meeting Papers 911, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    5. Joanna Tyrowicz & Krzysztof Makarski & Marcin Bielecki, 2018. "Inequality in an OLG economy with heterogeneous cohorts and pension systems," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 16(4), pages 583-606, December.
    6. Thomas Epper & Ernst Fehr & Helga Fehr-Duda & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & David Dreyer Lassen & Søren Leth-Petersen & Gregers Nytoft Rasmussen, 2020. "Time Discounting and Wealth Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 110(4), pages 1177-1205, April.
    7. Michau, Jean-Baptiste, 2018. "Secular stagnation: Theory and remedies," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 176(C), pages 552-618.
    8. Ayşe İmrohoroğlu & Kai Zhao, 2020. "Rising Wealth Inequality: Intergenerational Links, Entrepreneurship, and the Decline in Interest Rate," Working papers 2020-13, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    9. Juan Carlos Parra-Alvarez & Olaf Posch & Mu-Chun Wang, 2017. "Estimation of Heterogeneous Agent Models: A Likelihood Approach," CESifo Working Paper Series 6717, CESifo.
    10. Isabel Z. Martínez, 2020. "Evidence from Unique Swiss Tax Data on the Composition and Joint Distribution of Income and Wealth," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring and Understanding the Distribution and Intra/Inter-Generational Mobility of Income and Wealth, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Fischer, Thomas, 2019. "Determinants of Wealth Inequality and Mobility in General Equilibrium," Working Papers 2019:22, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    12. Knüpfer, Samuli & Rantapuska, Elias & Sarvimäki, Matti, 2017. "Why does portfolio choice correlate across generations," Research Discussion Papers 25/2017, Bank of Finland.
    13. Matthias Krapf, 2018. "The Joint Distribution of Wealth and Income Risk: Evidence from Bern," CESifo Working Paper Series 7130, CESifo.
    14. Joachim Hubmer & Per Krusell & Anthony A. Smith Jr., 2020. "Sources of US Wealth Inequality: Past, Present, and Future," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2020, volume 35, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Andrew Atkeson & Magnus Irie, 2020. "Understanding 100 Years of the Evolution of Top Wealth Shares in the U.S.: What is the Role of Family Firms?," Staff Report 610, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    16. Vincenzo Quadrini & Qi Sun & yicheng wang, 2019. "Capitalist Human Capital," 2019 Meeting Papers 1155, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    17. Juan Carlos Parra-Alvarez & Olaf Posch & Mu-Chun Wang, 2017. "Identification and estimation of heterogeneous agent models: A likelihood approach," CREATES Research Papers 2017-35, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
    18. Andrew Atkeson & Magnus Irie, 2020. "Understanding 100 Years of the Evolution of Top Wealth Shares in the U.S.: What is the Role of Family Firms?," NBER Working Papers 27465, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E13 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - Neoclassical
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E25 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Aggregate Factor Income Distribution

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