IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Inheritances and the Distribution of Wealth Or Whatever Happened to the Great Inheritance Boom?

  • Edward N. Wolff


    (New York University)

  • Maury Gittleman


    (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

We found that on average over the period from 1989 to 2007, 21 percent of American households at a given point of time received a wealth transfer and these accounted for 23 percent of their net worth. Over the lifetime, about 30 percent of households could expect to receive a wealth transfer and these would account for close to 40 percent of their net worth near time of death. However, there is little evidence of an inheritance “boom.” In fact, from 1989 to 2007, the share of households reporting a wealth transfer fell by 2.5 percentage points. The average value of inheritances received among all households did increase but at a slow pace, by 10 percent, and wealth transfers as a proportion of current net worth fell sharply over this period from 29 to 19 percent or by 10 percentage points. We also found, somewhat surprisingly, that inheritances and other wealth transfers tend to be equalizing in terms of the distribution of household wealth. Indeed, the addition of wealth transfers to other sources of household wealth has had a sizeable effect on reducing the inequality of wealth.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its series Working Papers with number 445.

in new window

Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bls:wpaper:ec110030
Contact details of provider: Postal: 2 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E. Room 2860, Washington, D. C. 20212
Phone: (202) 606-5900
Fax: (202) 606-7890
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Lam, D. & Schoeni, R.F., 1993. "Private Interhousehold Transfers of Money and Time: New Empirical Evidence," Papers 93-26, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
  2. Davies, James B, 1986. "Does Redistribution Reduce Inequality?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(4), pages 538-59, October.
  3. Wojciech Kopczuk & Joseph Lupton, 2005. "To Leave or Not To Leave: The Distribution of Bequest Motives," NBER Working Papers 11767, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Pierre Pestieau, 2002. "The Role of Gift and Estate Transfers in the United States and in Europe," CREPP Working Papers 0202, Centre de Recherche en Economie Publique et de la Population (CREPP) (Research Center on Public and Population Economics) HEC-Management School, University of Liège.
  5. Piketty, Thomas, 2010. "On the Long Run Evolution of Inheritance - France 1820-2050," CEPR Discussion Papers 7854, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Cox, Donald, 1987. "Motives for Private Income Transfers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(3), pages 508-46, June.
  7. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1979. "An Equilibrium Theory of the Distribution of Income and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1153-89, December.
  8. Michael D. Hurd & B. Gabriela Mundaca, 1987. "The Importance of Gifts and Inheritances Among the Affluent," NBER Working Papers 2415, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1991. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Accumulation of Wealth," UCLA Economics Working Papers 624, UCLA Department of Economics.
  10. Barro, Robert J., 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Scholarly Articles 3451399, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  11. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 0042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Tomes, Nigel, 1981. "The Family, Inheritance, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 928-58, October.
  13. Menchik, Paul L & David, Martin, 1983. "Income Distribution, Lifetime Savings, and Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 672-90, September.
  14. Jeffrey R. Brown & Scott J. Weisbenner, 2002. "Is a Bird in Hand Worth More than a Bird in the Bush? Intergenerational Transfers and Savings Behavior," NBER Working Papers 8753, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Edward N. Wolff, 2007. "Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_502, Levy Economics Institute.
  16. Cox, Donald & Rank, Mark R, 1992. "Inter-vivos Transfers and Intergenerational Exchange," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(2), pages 305-14, May.
  17. Edward N. Wolff & Ajit Zacharias & Thomas Masterson, 2012. "Trends In American Living Standards And Inequality, 1959–2007," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 58(2), pages 197-232, 06.
  18. Laitner, John, 1992. "Random earnings differences, lifetime liquidity constraints, and altruistic intergenerational transfers," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 135-170, December.
  19. Klevmarken, N. Anders, 2001. "On the Wealth Dynamics of Swedish Families 1984-1998," Working Paper Series 2001:17, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
  20. Jeffrey Brown & Scott Weisbenner, 2004. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings Behavior," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 181-204 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Kessler, Denis & Masson, Andre, 1989. "Bequest and Wealth Accumulation: Are Some Pieces of the Puzzle Missing?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 141-52, Summer.
  22. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:105:y:1990:i:1:p:187-217 is not listed on IDEAS
  23. Oulton, Nicholas, 1976. "Inheritance and the Distribution of Wealth," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(1), pages 86-101, March.
  24. Wolff, Francois-Charles, 2006. "Microeconomic models of family transfers," Handbook on the Economics of Giving, Reciprocity and Altruism, Elsevier.
  25. Cox, Donald & Jappelli, Tullio, 1990. "Credit Rationing and Private Transfers: Evidence from Survey Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 72(3), pages 445-54, August.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bls:wpaper:ec110030. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Gregory Kurtzon)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.