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Fresh start or head start? The effect of filing for personal bankruptcy on the labor supply

  • Song Han
  • Wenli Li
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The key feature of the modern U.S. personal bankruptcy law is to provide debtors a financial fresh start through debt discharge. The primary justification for the discharge policy is to preserve human capital by maintaining incentives for work. In this paper, we test this fresh start argument by providing the first estimate of the effect of personal bankruptcy filing on the labor supply using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Our econometric approach controls for the endogenous self-selection of bankruptcy filing and allows for dependence over time for the same household. We find that filing for bankruptcy does not have a positive impact on annual hours worked by bankrupt households, a result mainly due to the wealth effects of debt discharge. The finding is robust to a number of alternative model specifications and sample selections. Therefore, our analysis does not find supporting evidence for the human capital argument for bankruptcy discharge.

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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 2004-28.

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Date of creation: 2004
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2004-28
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  1. Jappelli, Tullio & Pischke, Jörn-Steffen & Souleles, Nicholas, 1995. "Testing for Liquidity Constraints in Euler Equations with Complementary Data Sources," CEPR Discussion Papers 1138, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Hausman, J. A. & Abrevaya, Jason & Scott-Morton, F. M., 1998. "Misclassification of the dependent variable in a discrete-response setting," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 87(2), pages 239-269, September.
  3. repec:fth:pennfi:69 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Krueger, Alan B. & Meyer, Bruce D., 2002. "Labor supply effects of social insurance," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 33, pages 2327-2392 Elsevier.
  5. Igor Livshits & James MacGee & Michele Tertilt, 2003. "Consumer bankruptcy: a fresh start," Working Papers 617, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  6. White, M.J., 1998. "Why Don't More Households File for Bankruptcy?," Papers 98-03, Michigan - Center for Research on Economic & Social Theory.
  7. Moffitt, Robert A., 2002. "Welfare programs and labor supply," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 34, pages 2393-2430 Elsevier.
  8. Reint Gropp & John Karl Scholz & Michelle White, 1996. "Personal Bankruptcy and Credit Supply and Demand," NBER Working Papers 5653, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. White, Michelle J, 1998. "Why Don't More Households File for Bankruptcy?," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 205-31, October.
  10. Lin, Emily Y. & White, Michelle J., 2001. "Bankruptcy and the Market for Mortgage and Home Improvement Loans," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 138-162, July.
  11. Ruhm, Christopher J, 1997. "Is High School Employment Consumption or Investment?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(4), pages 735-76, October.
  12. Buckley, F H & Brinig, Margaret F, 1998. "The Bankruptcy Puzzle," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(1), pages 187-207, January.
  13. Satyajit Chatterjee & Dean Corbae & Makoto Nakajima & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2007. "A quantitative theory of unsecured consumer credit with risk of default," Working Papers 07-16, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  14. Scott Fay & Erik Hurst & Michelle J. White, 2002. "The Household Bankruptcy Decision," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(3), pages 706-718, June.
  15. Loretta Mester, 2002. "Is the personal bankruptcy system bankrupt?," Business Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, issue Q1, pages 31-44.
  16. Ian Domowitz & Robert L. Sartain, 1999. "Determinants of the Consumer Bankruptcy Decision," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 54(1), pages 403-420, 02.
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