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Consumption Smoothing Among Working-Class American Families Before Social Insurance

  • James, J.A.
  • Palumbo, M.G.
  • Thomas, M.

This paper examines whether the saving decisions among a large, unique sample of working-class American families around the turn of the twentieth century are consistent with consumption smoothing tendencies in the spirit of the permanent income hypothesis. We develop an econometric model to decompose each family's reported income realization into an expected and an unexpected components, then we estimate marginal propensities to save for each income component. The estimated regression coefficients are remarkably similar to point estimates available from other recent research based on quite different contemporary household data. Marginal propensities to save out of unexpected income shocks are large relative to propensities based on expected income movements, though the former lie much below one and the latter much above zero. Thus, while these data readily reject strict parameterizations of the permanent income hypothesis, we nonetheless conclude that families's saving decisions look quite "modern."

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Paper provided by Houston - Department of Economics in its series Papers with number 98-05.

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Length: 39 pages
Date of creation: 1998
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fth:housto:98-05
Contact details of provider: Postal: UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON, DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS, COLLEGE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, HOUSTON TEXAS 77023 U.S.A.
Web page: http://www.class.uh.edu/econ/
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  1. Kantor, Shawn Everett & Fishback, Price V, 1996. "Precautionary Saving, Insurance, and the Origins of Workers' Compensation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 419-42, April.
  2. Deaton, Angus, 1991. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1221-48, September.
  3. Olney, Martha L., 1998. "When Your Word Is Not Enough: Race, Collateral, and Household Credit," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 408-431, June.
  4. James, John A, 1993. "Changes in Economic Instability in 19th-Century America," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 710-31, September.
  5. Christopher D Carroll, 1990. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," Economics Working Paper Archive 371, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics, revised Aug 1996.
  6. Marjorie A. Flavin, 1991. "The Joint Consumption/Asset Demand Decision: A Case Study in Robust Estimation," NBER Working Papers 3802, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Paxson, Christina H, 1992. "Using Weather Variability to Estimate the Response of Savings to Transitory Income in Thailand," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 15-33, March.
  8. R. Glenn Hubbard & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 1993. "The Importance of Precautionary Motives in Explaining Individual and Aggregate Saving," NBER Working Papers 4516, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Alessie, Rob & Lusardi, Annamaria, 1997. "Saving and income smoothing: Evidence from panel data," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(7), pages 1251-1279, July.
  10. Palumbo, M.G., 1998. "Estimating the Effects of Earnings Uncertainty on Families's Saving and Insurance Decisions," Papers 98-07, Houston - Department of Economics.
  11. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521297677 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. Luigi Pistaferri, 2001. "Superior Information, Income Shocks, And The Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(3), pages 465-476, August.
  13. Deaton, Angus, 1992. "Understanding Consumption," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288244, March.
  14. Robert M. Townsend, 1995. "Consumption Insurance: An Evaluation of Risk-Bearing Systems in Low-Income Economies," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 83-102, Summer.
  15. Romer, Christina, 1986. "Spurious Volatility in Historical Unemployment Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(1), pages 1-37, February.
  16. Carter, Susan B. & Sutch, Richard, 1996. "Myth of the Industrial Scrap Heap: A Revisionist View of Turn-of-the-Century American Retirement," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(01), pages 5-38, March.
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