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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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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. S. Rao Aiyagari, 1994. "Uninsured Idiosyncratic Risk and Aggregate Saving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 659-684.
  2. Jonathan Heathcote, 2003. "The Macroeconomic Implications of Rising Wage Inequality in the United States," Working Papers gueconwpa~03-03-19, Georgetown University, Department of Economics.
  3. 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.
  4. Albert Marcet & Francesc Obiols-Homs & Philippe Weil, 2003. "Incomplete Markets, Labor Supply and Capital Accumulation," Sciences Po publications 659, Sciences Po.
  5. Carroll, Christopher D., 2005. "The method of endogenous gridpoints for solving dynamic stochastic optimization problems," CFS Working Paper Series 2005/18, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  6. Heathcote, Jonathan & Storesletten, Kjetil & Violante, Giovanni L, 2004. "Two Views of Inequality Over the Life-Cycle," CEPR Discussion Papers 4728, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. 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.
  8. David Domeij & Jonathan Heathcote, 2004. "On The Distributional Effects Of Reducing Capital Taxes," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(2), pages 523-554, 05.
  9. Altonji, Joseph G & Segal, Lewis M, 1996. "Small-Sample Bias in GMM Estimation of Covariance Structures," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 14(3), pages 353-66, July.
  10. Kjetil Storesletten & Gianluca Violante & Jonathan Heathcote, 2007. "Consumption and Labor Supply with Partial Insurance: An Analytical Framework," 2007 Meeting Papers 913, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. 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.
  12. Josep Pijoan-Mas, 2006. "Precautionary Savings or Working Longer Hours?," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 9(2), pages 326-352, April.
  13. Chernozhukov, Victor & Hong, Han, 2003. "An MCMC approach to classical estimation," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 293-346, August.
  14. Angus Deaton & Christina Paxson, 1993. "Intertemporal Choice and Inequality," NBER Working Papers 4328, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. 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.
  16. Orazio Attanasio & Nicola Pavoni, 2007. "Risk Sharing in Private Information Models with Asset Accumulation: Explaining the Excess Smoothness of Consumption," NBER Working Papers 12994, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. 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.
  18. repec:oup:restud:v:73:y:2006:i:1:p:163-193 is not listed on IDEAS
  19. Santiago Budria Rodriguez & Javier Diaz-Gimenez & Vincenzo Quadrini & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2002. "Updated facts on the U.S. distributions of earnings, income, and wealth," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Sum, pages 2-35.
  20. Pakes, Ariel & Pollard, David, 1989. "Simulation and the Asymptotics of Optimization Estimators," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(5), pages 1027-57, September.
  21. Huggett, Mark, 1996. "Wealth distribution in life-cycle economies," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 469-494, December.
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