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Social Security and Inequality over the Life Cycle

In: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform

  • Angus S. Deaton
  • Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas
  • Christina Paxson

This paper examines the consequences of social security reform for the inequality of consumption across individuals. The idea is that inequality is at least in part the result of individual risk in earnings or asset returns, the effects of which accumulate over time to increase inequality within groups of people as they age. Institutions such as social security, that share risk across individuals, will moderate the transmission of individual risk into inequality. We examine how different social security systems, with different degrees of risk sharing, affect consumption inequality. We do so within the framework of the permanent income hypothesis, and also using richer models of consumption that incorporate precautionary saving motives and borrowing restrictions. Our results indicate that systems in which there is less sharing of earnings risk such as systems of individual accounts produce higher consumption inequality both before and after retirement. However, differences across individuals in the rate of return on assets (including social security assets held in individual accounts) produce only modest additional effects on inequality.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Martin Feldstein & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2002. "The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld02-1.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 9750.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:9750
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. James M. Poterba & David A. Wise, 1998. "Individual Financial Decisions in Retirement Saving Plans and the Provision of Resources for Retirement," NBER Chapters, in: Privatizing Social Security, pages 363-401 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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