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The mismatch between life insurance holdings and financial vulnerabilities: evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances

  • B. Douglas Bernheim
  • Katherine Grace Carman
  • Jagadeesh Gokhale
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff

Using the 1995 Survey of Consumer Finances and an elaborate lifecycle model, we quantify the potential financial impact of each individual’s death on his or her survivors, and we measure the degree to which life insurance moderates these consequences. Life insurance is essentially uncorrelated with financial vulnerability at every stage of the life cycle. As a result, the impact of insurance among at-risk households is modest, and substantial uninsured vulnerabilities are widespread, particularly among younger couples. Roughly two-thirds of poverty among surviving women and more than one-third of poverty among surviving men results from a failure to insure survivors against an diminished living standard. We also identify a systematic gender bias: for any given level of financial vulnerability, couples provide significantly more protection for wives than for husbands.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in its series Working Paper with number 0201.

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Date of creation: 2002
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedcwp:0201
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  1. 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 372-91, April.
  2. Olivia S. Mitchell & James F. Moore, . "Retirement Wealth Accumulation and Decumulation: New Developments and Outstanding Opportunities," Pension Research Council Working Papers 97-8, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  3. 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.
  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. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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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