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Household Ownership of Variable Annuities

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 20

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  • Jeffrey R. Brown
  • James M. Poterba

Abstract

Variable annuities have been one of the most rapidly growing financial products of the last two decades. Between 1996 and 2004, nominal sales of variable annuities in the U.S. more than doubled, from $51 billion to $130 billion. Variable annuities now account for approximately nearly two thirds of annuity sales. The investment returns associated with variable annuities resemble those from mutual funds, and variable annuity buyers can select among a range of asset allocation options. Variable annuities are considered insurance products under the tax law, so buyers are not taxed on their investment returns until they make withdrawals from their variable annuity accounts. This paper describes the tax treatment of variable annuities, presents summary information on their ownership patterns, and explores the importance of several distinct motives for household purchase of variable annuities. The discussion of tax treatment examines the impact of the 2001 and 2003 tax bills on the relative tax treatment of variable annuities and other financial products. Household data from the 1998 and 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances shows that variable annuity ownership is highly concentrated among high income and high net wealth sub-groups of the population. Variable annuity ownership is less concentrated, however, than ownership of several other types of financial assets. Evidence on the role of tax incentives in encouraging ownership of variable annuities is mixed. The probability of owning a variable annuity rises with the marginal tax rate throughout most of the income distribution, but it is lower for households in the top tax bracket than for those with slightly lower tax rates.
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Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey R. Brown & James M. Poterba, 2006. "Household Ownership of Variable Annuities," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 20, pages 163-191 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:0069
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jeffrey R. Brown & Amy Finkelstein, 2004. "Supply or Demand: Why is the Market for Long-Term Care Insurance So Small?," NBER Working Papers 10782, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Olivia S. Mitchell, 1999. "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 1299-1318.
    3. Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
    4. Milevsky, Moshe Arye & Panyagometh, Kamphol, 2001. "Variable annuities versus mutual funds: a Monte-Carlo analysis of the options," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, pages 145-161.
    5. William M. Gentry & Joseph Milano, 1998. "Taxes and Investment in Annuities," NBER Working Papers 6525, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Jeffrey R. Brown & Mark J. Warshawsky, 2001. "Longevity-Insured Retirement Distributions from Pension Plans: Market and Regulatory Issues," NBER Working Papers 8064, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Jeffrey R. Brown & Olivia S. Mitchell & James M. Poterba, 2001. "The Role of Real Annuities and Indexed Bonds in an Individual Accounts Retirement Program," NBER Chapters,in: Risk Aspects of Investment-Based Social Security Reform, pages 321-370 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Brown, Jeffrey R. & Mitchell, Olivia S. & Poterba, James M. & Warshawsky, Mark J., 2001. "The Role of Annuity Markets in Financing Retirement," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262529130.
    9. Weisbenner, Scott, 2002. "Do pension plans with participant investment choice teach households to hold more equity?," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, pages 223-248.
    10. Poterba, James M. & Samwick, Andrew A., 2003. "Taxation and household portfolio composition: US evidence from the 1980s and 1990s," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 5-38.
    11. Poterba, James M. & Samwick, Andrew A., 2003. "Taxation and household portfolio composition: US evidence from the 1980s and 1990s," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 5-38.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde & Pablo Guerron-Quintana & Juan F. Rubio-Ramirez & Martin Uribe, 2011. "Risk Matters: The Real Effects of Volatility Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 2530-2561.
    2. Steinorth, Petra & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2015. "Valuing variable annuities with guaranteed minimum lifetime withdrawal benefits," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, pages 246-258.
    3. Joachim Inkmann & Paula Lopes & Alexander Michaelides, 2011. "How Deep Is the Annuity Market Participation Puzzle?," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, pages 279-319.
    4. Bacinello, Anna Rita & Millossovich, Pietro & Olivieri, Annamaria & Pitacco, Ermanno, 2011. "Variable annuities: A unifying valuation approach," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, pages 285-297.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies

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