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Inequality and the life cycle

This paper investigates the sources of cross-sectional differences in consumption, labor supply, wealth and welfare over the lifecycle. I document the existence of rich and informative lifecycle patterns in the joint distribution of wages, hours, consumption and wealth. I then estimate a structural model of precautionary savings with endogenous labor supply and uninsurable wage risk in an attempt to assess the ability of the standard incomplete markets model to simultaneously account for the various dimensions of lifecycle inequality. I find that in many dimensions the model provides a coherent explanation. However, the combination of certain features of the data provides an inherent challenge for this class of models. Structural estimates of parameter values are obtained using Monte-Carlo Markov Chain techniques. These are then used to decompose inequality at different points in the lifecycle into differences in preferences, differences in initial wealth endowments, differences in fixed labor productivity and the accumulated effects of shocks realized after entry to the labor market. I find that around 40% of the cross-sectional differences in lifetime welfare are due to fixed skills and around 60% are due to lifecycle productivity shocks. Differences in financial wealth endowments, however, account for almost none of the inequality in lifetime welfare.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.3982/QE200
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Article provided by Econometric Society in its journal Quantitative Economics.

Volume (Year): 3 (2012)
Issue (Month): 3 (November)
Pages: 471-525

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Handle: RePEc:ecm:quante:v:3:y:2012:i:3:p:471-525
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  1. Luigi Pistaferri & Hamish Low & Costas Meghir, 2004. "Wage risk and employment risk over the life-cycle," 2004 Meeting Papers 82, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  2. Carroll, Christopher D., 2006. "The method of endogenous gridpoints for solving dynamic stochastic optimization problems," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 91(3), pages 312-320, June.
  3. Flavio Cunha & James Heckman & Salvador Navarro, 2005. "Separating uncertainty from heterogeneity in life cycle earnings," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 57(2), pages 191-261, April.
  4. Dirk Krueger & Fabrizio Perri, 2006. "Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality? Evidence and Theory -super-1," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(1), pages 163-193.
  5. Orazio Attanasio & Hamish Low & Virginia Sanchez-Marcos, 2008. "Explaining Changes in Female Labor Supply in a Life-Cycle Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1517-52, September.
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  8. Storesletten, Kjetil & Telmer, Christopher I. & Yaron, Amir, 2004. "Consumption and risk sharing over the life cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(3), pages 609-633, April.
  9. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
  10. Josep Pijoan-Mas, 2003. "Precautionary Savings Or Working Longer Hours?," Working Papers wp2003_0311, CEMFI.
  11. Deaton, A. & Paxson, C., 1993. "Intertemporal Choice and Inequality," Papers 168, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Development Studies.
  12. Hamish Low, 2005. "Self-Insurance in a Life-Cycle Model of Labor Supply and Savings," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 8(4), pages 945-975, October.
  13. S. Rao Aiyagari, 1993. "Uninsured idiosyncratic risk and aggregate saving," Working Papers 502, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  14. Pakes, Ariel & Pollard, David, 1989. "Simulation and the Asymptotics of Optimization Estimators," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(5), pages 1027-57, September.
  15. Vincenzo Quadrini & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 1997. "Understanding the U.S. distribution of wealth," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Spr, pages 22-36.
  16. Huggett, Mark, 1996. "Wealth distribution in life-cycle economies," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 469-494, December.
  17. Susumu Imai & Michael P. Keane, 2004. "Intertemporal Labor Supply and Human Capital Accumulation," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(2), pages 601-641, 05.
  18. Baker, Michael, 1997. "Growth-Rate Heterogeneity and the Covariance Structure of Life-Cycle Earnings," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(2), pages 338-75, April.
  19. Chernozhukov, Victor & Hong, Han, 2003. "An MCMC approach to classical estimation," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 293-346, August.
  20. Huggett, Mark, 1993. "The risk-free rate in heterogeneous-agent incomplete-insurance economies," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 17(5-6), pages 953-969.
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