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Spendthrift in America? On Two Decades of Decline in the U.S. Saving Rate

In: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1999, Volume 14

  • Jonathan A. Parker

During the past two decades, the personal saving rate in the United States has fallen from eight percent to below zero. This paper demonstrates that this change represents a major shift in the allocation of newly produced goods. The share of GDP that households consume rose by 6 percentage points since 1980. This increase occurred concurrently with a reduction in the growth rate of real consumption spending per person, high real rates of return, and an increasing ratio of aggregate wealth to income. Despite this last fact, wealth changes can explain little of the boom in consumption spending. The largest increases in national wealth post-date the consumption boom and households with different wealth levels have similar increases in consumption. The paper also finds that the changing age distribution of the U.S. population does not explain the consumption boom. While it may be that new wealthier cohorts are driving this boom, the preponderance of evidence suggest rather that the rising consumption to income ratio is due to a common time effect. The main findings of the paper are consistent with either an increase in the discount rate or with a general belief in better economic times in the future. Alternatively, the low rates of saving could be due to a combination of factors such as the increase in intergenerational transfers from the Social Security system raising the consumption of the elderly and an increase in access to credit and expanded financial instruments raising the consumption of the young.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Ben S. Bernanke & Julio J. Rotemberg, 2000. "NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1999, Volume 14," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bern00-1, December.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 11050.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:11050
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    8. William G. Gale & John Sabelhaus, 1999. "Perspectives on the Household Saving Rate," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 30(1), pages 181-224.
    9. repec:fth:harver:1435 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Christopher D. Carroll, 1996. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," NBER Working Papers 5788, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Christopher D. Carroll & David N. Weil, 1993. "Saving and Growth: A Reinterpretation," NBER Working Papers 4470, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Kapteyn, Arie & Alessie, Rob & Lusardi, Annamaria, 1999. "Explaining the wealth holdings of different cohorts : productivity growth and social security," Serie Research Memoranda 0038, VU University Amsterdam, Faculty of Economics, Business Administration and Econometrics.
    13. Caballero, Ricardo J, 1991. "Earnings Uncertainty and Aggregate Wealth Accumulation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 859-71, September.
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    19. B. Douglas Bernheim & John Karl Scholz, 1993. "Private Saving and Public Policy," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 7, pages 73-110 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & John Sabelhaus, 1996. "Understanding the Postwar Decline in U.S. Saving: A Cohort Analysis," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 27(1), pages 315-407.
    21. B. Douglas Bernheim & John B. Shoven, 1991. "National Saving and Economic Performance," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bern91-2, December.
    22. Lusardi, Annamaria, 1996. "Permanent Income, Current Income, and Consumption: Evidence from Two Panel Data Sets," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 14(1), pages 81-90, January.
    23. Hansen, Lars Peter & Singleton, Kenneth J, 1983. "Stochastic Consumption, Risk Aversion, and the Temporal Behavior of Asset Returns," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(2), pages 249-65, April.
    24. Lawrence Summers & Chris Carroll, 1987. "Why Is U.S. National Saving So Low?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 18(2), pages 607-642.
    25. Sydney Ludvigson & Charles Steindel, 1998. "How important is the stock market effect on consumption?," Research Paper 9821, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    26. Stephenson, E. Frank, 1998. "Average marginal tax rates revisited," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 389-409, April.
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