IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Wealth inequality in the United States and Great Britain

  • James Banks

    ()

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies and University of Manchester)

  • Richard Blundell

    ()

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies and University College London)

  • James P. Smith

In this paper we describe the household wealth distribution in the US and UK, and compare both wealth inequality and the form in which wealth is held. Unconditionally, there are large differences in financial wealth between the two countries at the top fifth of the wealth distribution. And even after controlling for age and income differences between the two countries, we show that the median US household accumulates more financial wealth than their UK counterpart. We explore a number of alternative reasons for these differences and reject some explanations as implausible. These include differential receipt of financial inheritances or desired bequests, and differential average rates of return to corporate equity or housing. While less certain, we also argue that the differences that are concentrated among the older well-to-do are not likely due to differences in income or employment risks, savings for college expenses, or changes in permanent income. Some of the observed differences are due to what we refer to as "initial conditions", in particular previously high rates of corporate equity ownership in the US and housing ownership among young British households. But since these differences existed even in the early 1980s, initial conditions only provide a partial explanation. One further possibility may be that due to forced and voluntary annuitization of retirement incomes, older British households face considerably less longevity risk. Looking more widely, however, we find wealth held in different forms across the two countries, in particular in housing, which to some extent offsets the differences we observe in financial wealth patterns. We therefore point out that it is important that comparative studies compare genuine economic phenomena (such as the ability to smooth consumption) rather than particular economic measurements (such as the level of wealth in any one particular form). We also argue that it is crucial that comparative exercises of this form acknowledge the importance of institutional differences across countries, and in this particular comparison the role of housing markets, annuity markets and stock markets appear crucial and all merit further more detailed research. On balance, we are encouraged by the degree to which a detailed investigation can point to potential explanations of observed wealth differences between the two countries, and such an investigation will also lead to a deeper understanding of the household wealth accumulation process more generally.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL: http://www.ifs.org.uk/wps/wp0020.pdf
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Institute for Fiscal Studies in its series IFS Working Papers with number W00/20.

as
in new window

Length: 80 pp
Date of creation: Nov 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ifs:ifsewp:00/20
Contact details of provider: Postal: The Institute for Fiscal Studies 7 Ridgmount Street LONDON WC1E 7AE
Phone: (+44) 020 7291 4800
Fax: (+44) 020 7323 4780
Web page: http://www.ifs.org.uk
Email:


More information through EDIRC

Order Information: Postal: The Institute for Fiscal Studies 7 Ridgmount Street LONDON WC1E 7AE
Email:


References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Attanasio, Orazio P & Weber, Guglielmo, 1993. "Consumption Growth, the Interest Rate and Aggregation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(3), pages 631-49, July.
  2. Chiuri, Maria Concetta & Jappelli, Tullio, 2001. "Financial Market Imperfections and Home Ownership: A Comparative Study," CEPR Discussion Papers 2717, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Burgess, Simon & Gardiner, Karin & Jenkins, Stephen P & Propper, Carol, 2000. "Measuring Income Risk," CEPR Discussion Papers 2512, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Martin Browning & Thomas F. Crossley, 2001. "The Life-Cycle Model of Consumption and Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 3-22, Summer.
  5. David Card & Thomas Lemieux, 2001. "Can Falling Supply Explain The Rising Return To College For Younger Men? A Cohort-Based Analysis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(2), pages 705-746, May.
  6. James P. Smith, 2004. "Why is Wealth Inequality Rising?," Macroeconomics 0402012, EconWPA.
  7. Friedman, Benjamin M & Warshawsky, Mark J, 1990. "The Cost of Annuities: Implications for Saving Behavior and Bequests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 135-54, February.
  8. Karen E. Dynan & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2000. "Do the Rich Save More?," NBER Working Papers 7906, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Benjamin M. Friedman & Mark Warshawsky, 1985. "The Cost of Annuities: Implications for Saving Behavior and Bequests," NBER Working Papers 1682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. F. Thomas Juster & Joseph Lupton & James P. Smith & Frank Stafford, 2004. "Savings and Wealth; Then and Now," Labor and Demography 0403027, EconWPA.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ifs:ifsewp:00/20. 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: (Stephanie Seavers)

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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link 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 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.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.