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Genetic Ability, Wealth, and Financial Decision-Making

Listed author(s):
  • Barth, Daniel

    ()

    (University of Southern California)

  • Papageorge, Nicholas W.

    ()

    (Johns Hopkins University)

  • Thom, Kevin

    ()

    (New York University)

Registered author(s):

    Recent advances in behavioral genetics have enabled the discovery of genetic scores linked to a variety of economic outcomes, including education. We build on this progress to demonstrate that the same genetic variants that predict educational attainment independently predict household wealth in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). This relationship is partly explained by higher earnings, but a substantial portion of this association cannot be explained mechanically by income flows or bequests. This leads us to explore the role of beliefs, financial literacy and portfolio decisions in explaining this genetic gradient in wealth.We show that individuals with lower genetic scores are more prone to reporting "extreme beliefs" (e.g., reporting that there is a 100% chance of a stock market decline in the near future) and they invest their savings accordingly (e.g., avoiding the stock market). Our findings suggest that genetic factors that promote human capital accumulation contribute to wealth disparities not only through education and higher earnings, but also through their impact on the ability to process information and make good financial decisions. The association between genetic ability and wealth is substantially lower among households receiving a defined benefit pension. Policies that transfer greater responsibility to individuals to manage their wealth might therefore exacerbate the consequences of labor market inequality.

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    File URL: http://ftp.iza.org/dp10567.pdf
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    Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 10567.

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    Length: 55 pages
    Date of creation: Feb 2017
    Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10567
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    1. Currie, Janet & Neidell, Matthew & Schmieder, Johannes F., 2009. "Air pollution and infant health: Lessons from New Jersey," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 688-703, May.
    2. Yogo, Motohiro, 2016. "Portfolio choice in retirement: Health risk and the demand for annuities, housing, and risky assets," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 17-34.
    3. Jess Benhabib & Alberto Bisin & Shenghao Zhu, 2011. "The Distribution of Wealth and Fiscal Policy in Economies With Finitely Lived Agents," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(1), pages 123-157, 01.
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