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What Good Is Wealth without Health? The Effect of Health on the Marginal Utility of Consumption

  • Finkelstein, Amy

    (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

  • Luttmer, Erzo F. P.

    (Harvard U)

  • Notowidigdo, Matthew J.

    (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

We estimate how the marginal utility of consumption varies with health. To do so, we develop a simple model in which the impact of health on the marginal utility of consumption can be estimated from data on permanent income, health, and utility proxies. We estimate the model using the Health and Retirement Study’s panel data on the elderly and near-elderly, and proxy for utility with measures of subjective well-being. We find robust evidence that the marginal utility of consumption declines as health deteriorates. Our central estimate is that a one-standard¬deviation increase in the number of chronic diseases is associated with an 11 percent decline in the marginal utility of consumption relative to this marginal utility when the individual has no chronic diseases. The 95 percent confidence interval allows us to reject declines in marginal utility of less than 2 percent or more than 17 percent. Point estimates from a wide range of alternative specifications tend to lie within this confidence interval. We present some simple, illustrative calibration results that suggest that state dependence of the magnitude we estimate can have a substantial effect on important economic problems such as the optimal level of health insurance benefits and the optimal level of life-cycle savings.

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Paper provided by Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp08-036.

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Date of creation: Jun 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp08-036
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  1. Luttmer, Erzo F. P., 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," Working Paper Series rwp04-029, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  2. Jeffrey R. Brown & Amy Finkelstein, 2008. "The Interaction of Public and Private Insurance: Medicaid and the Long-Term Care Insurance Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 1083-1102, June.
  3. Alma Cohen & Liran Einav, 2007. "Estimating Risk Preferences from Deductible Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 745-788, June.
  4. Finkelstein, Amy N. & Luttmer, Erzo F. P. & Notowidigdo, Matthew J., 2009. "Approaches to Estimating the Health State Dependence of the Utility Function," Working Paper Series rwp09-002, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  5. Viscusi, W Kip & Evans, William N, 1990. "Utility Functions That Depend on Health Status: Estimates and Economic Implications," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 353-74, June.
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  10. Manning, Willard G, et al, 1987. "Health Insurance and the Demand for Medical Care: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 251-77, June.
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  13. Feldstein, Martin S, 1973. "The Welfare Loss of Excess Health Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(2), pages 251-80, Part I, M.
  14. Victor Chernozhukov & Ivan Fernandez-Val & Alfred Galichon, 2008. "Improving point and interval estimates of monotone functions by rearrangement," CeMMAP working papers CWP17/08, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  15. Ai, Chunrong & Norton, Edward C., 2003. "Interaction terms in logit and probit models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 123-129, July.
  16. Mariacristina De Nardi & Eric French & John Bailey Jones, 2006. "Differential Mortality, Uncertain Medical Expenses, and the Saving of Elderly Singles," 2006 Meeting Papers 46, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  17. Evans, William N & Viscusi, W Kip, 1991. "Estimation of State-Dependent Utility Functions Using Survey Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 73(1), pages 94-104, February.
  18. Lillard, L.A. & Weiss, Y., 1996. "Uncertain Health and Survival: Efefcts on End-of-Life Consumption," Papers 7-96, Tel Aviv.
  19. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
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