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Should America save for its old age? Population aging, national saving, and fiscal policy

  • Douglas W. Elmendorf
  • Louise M. Sheiner

While popular wisdom holds that the United States should save more now in anticipation of the aging of the baby boom generation, the optimal response to population aging from a macroeconomic perspective is not clear-cut. Indeed, Cutler, Poterba, Sheiner, and Summers ("CPSS",1990) argued that the optimal response to the coming demographic transition was more likely to be a reduction in national saving than an increase. In this paper we reexamine this question. In particular, we ask how the optimal saving response depends on the openness of our economy, on how we view the consumption of children, and on the existence of pay-as-you-go transfer programs like Social Security and Medicare. We find that, if the United States were a small open economy and world interest rates were fixed at their current level, the desire to smooth consumption as our population aged would lead us to increase saving today. But the optimal response in a closed economy is much less clear-cut, as slower growth of the labor force will push down the rate of return on capita l and diminish desired saving. For reasonable parameters, the optimal response to our aging population in a closed economy is likely to be small--either a small decline in national saving or a small increase. We also explore the role of the government in population aging. Government programs can influence consumption if they affect the capital-labor ratio or the relative weight that society places on the consumption of the elderly.

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Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2000-03.

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Date of creation: 2000
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2000-03
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  1. Cutler, D.M. & Poterba, J.M. & Sheiner, L.M. & Summers, L.H., 1990. "An Aging Society: Opportunity Or Challenge," Working papers 553, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. Michael Mussa & Morris Goldstein, 1993. "The integration of world capital markets," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 245-330.
  3. Calvo, Guillermo A & Obstfeld, Maurice, 1988. "Optimal Time-Consistent Fiscal Policy with Finite Lifetimes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 411-32, March.
  4. N. Gregory Mankiw & David N. Weil, 1988. "The Baby Boom, The Baby Bust, and the Housing Market," NBER Working Papers 2794, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Douglas W. Elmendorf & N. Gregory Mankiw, 1998. "Government Debt," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1820, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    • Elmendorf, Douglas W. & Gregory Mankiw, N., 1999. "Government debt," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 25, pages 1615-1669 Elsevier.
  6. Feldstein, Martin & Horioka, Charles, 1980. "Domestic Saving and International Capital Flows," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 90(358), pages 314-29, June.
  7. James M. Poterba, 1998. "Population Age Structure and Asset Returns: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 6774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & John Sabelhaus, 1996. "Understanding the Postwar Decline in U.S. Saving: A Cohort Analysis," NBER Working Papers 5571, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Weil, David N, 1994. "The Saving of the Elderly in Micro and Macro Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(1), pages 55-81, February.
  10. David M. Cutler & Louise Sheiner, 1999. "Demographics and medical care spending: standard and non-standard effects," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-20, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  11. repec:fth:harver:1490 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. Douglas W. Elmendorf, 1996. "The effect of interest-rate changes on household saving and consumption: a survey," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 96-27, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  13. Sylvester J. Schieber & John B. Shoven, 1994. "The Consequences of Population Aging on Private Pension Fund Saving and Asset Markets," NBER Working Papers 4665, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Ronald Lee & Jonathan Skinner, 1999. "Will Aging Baby Boomers Bust the Federal Budget?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 117-140, Winter.
  15. Feldstein, Martin S, 1974. "Social Security, Induced Retirement, and Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(5), pages 905-26, Sept./Oct.
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