IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

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."

Suggested Citation

  • James, J.A. & Palumbo, M.G. & Thomas, M., 1998. "Consumption Smoothing Among Working-Class American Families Before Social Insurance," Papers 98-05, Houston - Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:fth:housto:98-05

    Download full text from publisher

    To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
    1. Check below whether another version of this item is available online.
    2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
    3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael G. Palumbo, 2000. "Estimating the Effects of Earnings Uncertainty on Families’ Saving and Insurance Decisions," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 67(1), pages 64-86, July.
    2. Deaton, Angus, 1991. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1221-1248, September.
    3. Keyssar,Alexander, 1986. "Out of Work," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521297677, March.
    4. Romer, Christina, 1986. "Spurious Volatility in Historical Unemployment Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(1), pages 1-37, February.
    5. 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.
    6. Christopher D. Carroll, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55.
    7. Hubbard, R. Glenn & Skinner, Jonathan & Zeldes, Stephen P., 1994. "The importance of precautionary motives in explaining individual and aggregate saving," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 59-125, June.
    8. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1797-1855, December.
    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. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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 419-442, April.
    13. 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.
    14. 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.
    15. Deaton, Angus, 1992. "Understanding Consumption," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288244.
    16. 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.
    17. James, John A, 1993. "Changes in Economic Instability in 19th-Century America," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 710-731, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item



    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fth:housto:98-05. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Thomas Krichel). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.