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

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

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.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in its series Working Paper with number 0109.

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Date of creation: 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedcwp:0109
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  1. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Avia Spivak, 1979. "The Family as an Incomplete Annuities Market," UCLA Economics Working Papers 151, UCLA Department of Economics.
  2. Michael D. Hurd & David A. Wise, 1987. "The Wealth and Poverty of Widows: Assets Before and After the Husband's Death," NBER Working Papers 2325, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. Olivia S. Mitchell & James M. Poterba & Mark J. Warshawsky, 1997. "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," NBER Working Papers 6002, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Olivia S. Mitchell & James F. Moore, 1997. "Retirement Wealth Accumulation and Decumulation: New Developments and Outstanding Opportunities," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers 97-12, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Ringen, Stein, 1991. "Households, Standard of Living, and Inequality," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 37(1), pages 1-13, March.
  9. Bernheim, B. Douglas, 1987. "The economic effects of social security : Toward a reconciliation of theory and measurement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 273-304, August.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Nelson, Julie A, 1992. "Methods of Estimating Household Equivalence Scales: An Empirical Investigation," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 38(3), pages 295-310, September.
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