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The mismatch between life insurance holdings and financial vulnerabilities: evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey

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  • B. Douglas Bernheim
  • Lorenzo Forni
  • Jagadeesh Gokhale
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff

Abstract

Using data on older workers from the 1992 Health and Retirement Survey, along with an elaborate life-cycle planning model, the authors quantify the effect of each individual's death on the financial status of his or her survivors and the degree to which life insurance holdings moderate these consequences. The average change in living standard that would result from a spouse's death is small, both in absolute terms and relative to the decline that would occur without insurance. However, this average obscures a startling mismatch between insurance holdings and underlying vulnerabilities. For many of the most vulnerable, the amounts purchased are surprisingly small, and for many of the least vulnerable, the amounts are surprisingly large. As a result, uninsured vulnerabilities are quite widespread. The magnitude of these vulnerabilities, as well as the proclivity to address any given degree of vulnerability by purchasing life insurance, vary systematically with individual and household characteristics.

Suggested Citation

  • B. Douglas Bernheim & Lorenzo Forni & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2001. "The mismatch between life insurance holdings and financial vulnerabilities: evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey," Working Paper 0109, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedcwp:0109
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alan J. Auerbach & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1985. "Life Insurance of the Elderly: Adequacy and Determinants," NBER Working Papers 1737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. B. Douglas Bernheim & Lorenzo Forni & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "The Adequacy of Life Insurance: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Working Papers 7372, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. James F. Moore & Olivia S. Mitchell, 1997. "Projected Retirement Wealth and Savings Adequacy in the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Working Papers 6240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    7. Kotlikoff, Laurence J & Spivak, Avia, 1981. "The Family as an Incomplete Annuities Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(2), pages 372-391, April.
    8. Auerbach, Alan J. & Kotlikoff, Laurence J., 1991. "The adequacy of life insurance purchases," Journal of Financial Intermediation, Elsevier, vol. 1(3), pages 215-241, June.
    9. Nathan S. Balke & Robert J. Gordon, 1986. "The Estimation of Prewar GNP Volatility, 1869-1938," NBER Working Papers 1999, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    11. Alan J. Auerbach & Laurence Kotlikoff, 1991. "Life Insurance Inadequacy - Evidence From a Sample of Older Widows," NBER Working Papers 3765, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas Davidoff & Jeffrey R. Brown & Peter A. Diamond, 2005. "Annuities and Individual Welfare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1573-1590, December.
    2. Jay H. Hong & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 2012. "Life Insurance and Household Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(7), pages 3701-3730, December.
    3. B. Douglas Bernheim & Katherine Grace Carman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2001. "The Mismatch Between Life Insurance Holdings and Financial Vulnerabilities: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," NBER Working Papers 8544, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Kopczuk Wojciech & Slemrod Joel, 2005. "Denial of Death and Economic Behavior," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-26, August.
    5. David M. Cutler & Amy Finkelstein & Kathleen McGarry, 2008. "Preference Heterogeneity and Insurance Markets: Explaining a Puzzle of Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 157-162, May.
    6. Yijia Lin & Martin F. Grace, 2007. "Household Life Cycle Protection: Life Insurance Holdings, Financial Vulnerability, and Portfolio Implications," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 74(1), pages 141-173.
    7. Katherine Grace Carman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2003. "The Impact on Consumption and Saving of Current and Future Fiscal Policies," NBER Working Papers 10085, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Krupa S. Viswanathan & Jean Lemaire & Kate Withers & Katrina Armstrong & Agnieszka Baumritter & John C. Hershey & Mark V. Pauly & David A. Asch, 2007. "Adverse Selection in Term Life Insurance Purchasing due to the BRCA1/2 Genetic Test and Elastic Demand," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 74(1), pages 65-86.
    9. James, Estelle & Edwards, Alejandra Cox & Wong, Rebecca, 2003. "The gender impact of pension reform : a cross-country analysis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3074, The World Bank.
    10. Dardanoni, V & Li Donni, P, 2008. "Testing For Asymmetric Information In Insurance Markets With Unobservable Types," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 08/26, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.

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    Life insurance companies;

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