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Understanding Differences in Household Financial Wealth between the United States and Great Britain

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  • James Banks
  • Richard Blundell
  • James P. Smith

Abstract

In this paper, we describe the household wealth distribution in the United States and United Kingdom over the past two decades, and compare both wealth inequality and the form in which wealth is held. Unconditionally, there are large differences in financial wealth between the two countries at the top fifth of the wealth distribution. Even after controlling for age and income differences between the two countries, we show that the median U.S. household accumulates more financial wealth than their United Kingdom counterpart does. We explore a number of alternative reasons for these differences and reject some explanations as implausible. Some of the observed differences are due to what we refer to as ‘‘initial conditions,’’ in particular previously high rates of corporate equity ownership in the U.S. and housing ownership among young British households. This only provides a partial explanation, however. Among other explanations are differences in the annuitization of retirement incomes and in the amount of wealth held in the form of housing equity. In the first case, forced and voluntary annuitization in the United Kingdom mean older households face considerably less longevity risk. In the second, higher house price volatility in the United Kingdom can create an incentive, as shown Banks, Blundell, and Smith (2002), away from stock market equity earlier in the life cycle.

Suggested Citation

  • James Banks & Richard Blundell & James P. Smith, 2003. "Understanding Differences in Household Financial Wealth between the United States and Great Britain," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 38(2).
  • Handle: RePEc:uwp:jhriss:v:38:y:2003:i:2:p241-279
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    Cited by:

    1. John Gathergood & Eleonora Fichera, "undated". "House Prices, Home Equity and Health," Discussion Papers 12/07, University of Nottingham, School of Economics.
    2. Olympia Bover, 2010. "Wealth Inequality And Household Structure: U.S. Vs. Spain," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 56(2), pages 259-290, June.
    3. Cagetti, Marco & De Nardi, Mariacristina, 2008. "Wealth Inequality: Data And Models," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(S2), pages 285-313, September.
    4. Jappelli Tullio & Pagano Marco & Di Maggio Marco, 2013. "Households' indebtedness and financial fragility," Journal of Financial Management, Markets and Institutions, Società editrice il Mulino, issue 1, pages 23-46, January.
    5. repec:pri:crcwel:wp10-11-ff is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Timothy Smeeding & Eva Sierminska & Andrea Brandolini, 2006. "Cross National Comparison of Income and Wealth Status in Retirement: First Results from the Luxembourg Wealth Study (LWS)," LWS Working papers 2, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    7. James Banks & Michael Marmot & Zoe Oldfield & James P. Smith, 2009. "The SES Health Gradient on Both Sides of the Atlantic," NBER Chapters,in: Developments in the Economics of Aging, pages 359-406 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Almås, Ingvild & Mogstad, Magne, 2010. "Older or Wealthier? The Impact of Age Adjustment on Cross-Sectional Inequality Measures," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 9/2010, Department of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics.
    9. Francisco Azpitarte, 2011. "Measurement and identification of asset-poor households: a cross-national comparison of Spain and the United Kingdom," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 9(1), pages 87-110, March.
    10. repec:mul:jdp901:doi:10.12831/73631:y:2013:i:1:p:26-35 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Francisco Azpitarte, 2008. "Measurement and Identification of Asset-Poor Households: A Cross-National Comparison of Spain and the United Kingdom," Working Papers 105, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    12. Sònia Muñoz, 2006. "Wealth Effects in Europe; A Tale of Two Countries (Italy and the United Kingdom)," IMF Working Papers 06/30, International Monetary Fund.
    13. Jonathan Crook & Stefan Hochguertel, 2007. "US and European Household Debt and Credit Constraints," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 07-087/3, Tinbergen Institute.
    14. Frederic S. Miskin & Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel, 2007. "Does Inflation Targeting Make a Difference?," Central Banking, Analysis, and Economic Policies Book Series,in: Frederic S. Miskin & Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel & Norman Loayza (Series Editor) & Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel (Se (ed.), Monetary Policy under Inflation Targeting, edition 1, volume 11, chapter 9, pages 291-372 Central Bank of Chile.
    15. L. Arrondel & M. Roger & F. Savignac, 2014. "Wealth and Income in the Euro Area: Heterogeneity in Households’ Behaviours?," Working papers 497, Banque de France.
    16. Viola Angelini & Peter Simmons, "undated". "Housing Debt and Consumption," Discussion Papers 11/20, Department of Economics, University of York.
    17. Eleonora Fichera & John Gathergood, 2015. "Do Wealth Shocks Affect Health? New Evidence from the Housing Boom," Discussion Papers 2015/20, University of Nottingham, Centre for Finance, Credit and Macroeconomics (CFCM).
    18. Magne Mogstad & Ingvild Almås, 2009. "Older or Wealthier? The Impact of Age Adjustments on the Wealth Inequality Ranking of Countries," LWS Working papers 9, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    19. Richard Disney & Sarah Bridges & John Gathergood, "undated". "Housing Wealth and Household Indebtedness: Is there a Household ‘Financial Accelerator’?," Discussion Papers 06/01, University of Nottingham, Centre for Finance, Credit and Macroeconomics (CFCM).
    20. Margot Jackson & Kathleen Kiernan & Sara McLanahan, 2010. "Nativity Differences in Child Development across Diverse Populations, Settings and Outcomes: Do Socioeconomic Resources Narrow or Widen the Gap?," Working Papers 1270, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..

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