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Bequest Motives and the Social Security Notch

Author

Listed:
  • Siha Lee
  • Kegon T. K. Tan

Abstract

Bequests may be a key driver of late life savings behavior and more broadly, a determinant of intergenerational inequality. However, distinguishing bequest motives from precautionary savings is challenging. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we exploit an unanticipated change in Social Security benefits, commonly called the Social Security Notch, as an instrument to identify the effect of benefits on bequests. We show that an increase in benefits leads to a sizable increase in bequest amounts. We combine our instrumental variable estimates with a model of late life savings behavior that accounts for mortality risk and unobserved expenditure shocks to identify bequest motives. The model is used to analyze two counterfactuals. The results demonstrates the importance of bequest motives as a driver of late life savings by comparing asset profiles with and without utility from bequests. We find that roughly one-third of accumulated assets and bequests are attributable to bequest motives among retirees. Our second counterfactual features a more progressive Social Security benefits schedule that reduces benefits for the richest retirees. We show that although wealth declines, consumption remains largely unchanged since wealth generated by bequest motives acts as a cushion against benefit reduction.

Suggested Citation

  • Siha Lee & Kegon T. K. Tan, 2019. "Bequest Motives and the Social Security Notch," Working Papers 2019-061, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  • Handle: RePEc:hka:wpaper:2019-061
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    File URL: http://humcap.uchicago.edu/RePEc/hka/wpaper/Lee_Tan_2019_bequest-motives-social-security.pdf
    File Function: First version, October 11, 2019
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    bequests; late life savings; assets; social security;

    JEL classification:

    • D30 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - General
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination

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