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The Empirical Importance of Precautionary Saving

  • Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier
  • Parker, Jonathan A

One of the basic motives for saving is the accumulation of wealth to insure future welfare. Both introspection and extant research on consumption insurance find that people face substantial risks that they do not fairly pool. In theory, the consumption and wealth accumulation of price-taking households in an economy with incomplete markets differs substantially from the behaviour of these same households in the equivalent economy with complete-markets. The question we address in this article is whether we find this difference to be large in practice. What is the empirical importance of precautionary saving? We provide a simple decomposition that characterizes the importance of precautionary saving in the US economy. We use this decomposition as an organizing framework to present four main findings: (a) the concavity of the consumption policy rule, (b) the importance of precautionary saving for life-cycle saving and wealth accumulation, (c) the contribution of changes in risk to fluctuations in aggregate consumption and (d) the significant impact of incomplete markets on aggregate fluctuations in calibrated general equilibrium models. We conclude with directions for future research.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 2737.

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Date of creation: Mar 2001
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:2737
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  1. Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier & Parker, Jonathan A, 2000. "Consumption Over the Life-Cycle," CEPR Discussion Papers 2345, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Jonathan A. Parker & Bruce Preston, 2005. "Precautionary Saving and Consumption Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1119-1143, September.
  3. Kjetil Storesletten & Chris Telmer & Amir Yaron, 1996. "Asset pricing with idiosyncratic risk and overlapping generations," Economics Working Papers 405, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jul 1999.
  4. Deaton, Angus, 1991. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1221-48, September.
  5. Per Krusell & Anthony A. Smith, Jr., . "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomy," GSIA Working Papers 1997-37, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  6. Constantinides, George M & Duffie, Darrell, 1996. "Asset Pricing with Heterogeneous Consumers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 219-40, April.
  7. Carroll, Christopher D, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55, February.
  8. Christopher D. Carroll & Miles S. Kimball, 1995. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Macroeconomics 9503003, EconWPA.
  9. Zeldes, Stephen P, 1989. "Optimal Consumption with Stochastic Income: Deviations from Certainty Equivalence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(2), pages 275-98, May.
  10. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, 2000. "Precautionary Savings, LifeCycle and Macroeconomics," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0793, Econometric Society.
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