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Wealth Accumulation in the U.S.: Do Inheritances and Bequests Play a Significant Role?

  • John Laitner

    (University of Michigan)

This paper formulates an overlapping generations model with both life–cycle saving and altruistic bequests. For a given distribution of earning abilities, the model generates a stationary steady–state capital–to–labor ratio for the economy as a whole and a stationary distribution of net worth among households. We calibrate the model, using the 1995 Survey of Consumer Finances to fix the distribution of earning abilities, and using total 1995 U.S. wealth and Federal estate tax revenues to fix other key parameters. The analysis specifies its version of the Federal estate tax in detail, estimating the empirical degree of tax avoidance. Simulations show that the model can reproduce the high degree of wealth concentration evident in U.S. data. Most surprisingly, the analysis also suggests that the U.S. economy’s steady–state capital–to–output ratio will be insensitive to changes in the national debt and social security.

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File URL: http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp019.pdf
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Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp019.

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Length: 50 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp019
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  1. Martin Browning & Lars Peter Hansen & James J. Heckman, 1999. "Micro Data and General Equilibrium Models," Discussion Papers 99-10, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
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  8. Barro, Robert J., 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Scholarly Articles 3451399, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  12. Altonji, Joseph G & Hayashi, Fumio & Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1997. "Parental Altruism and Inter Vivos Transfers: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(6), pages 1121-66, December.
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  14. Bernheim, B Douglas & Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages S151-82, July.
  15. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
  16. John Laitner, 2001. "Secular Changes in Wealth Inequality and Inheritance," Working Papers wp020, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  17. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 0042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. 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.
  19. Davies, James B, 1982. "The Relative Impact of Inheritance and Other Factors on Economic Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(3), pages 471-98, August.
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  21. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & James Sefton & Martin Weale, 1998. "Simulating the transmission of wealth inequality via bequests," Working Paper 9811, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
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  24. Laitner, John, 1991. "Modeling Marital Connections among Family Lines," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(6), pages 1123-41, December.
  25. Shinichi Nishiyama, 2000. "Measuring Time Preference and Parental Altruism: Technical Paper 2000-7," Working Papers 13333, Congressional Budget Office.
  26. Modigliani, Franco, 1988. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers and Life Cycle Saving in the Accumulation of Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 15-40, Spring.
  27. James M. Poterba & Scott Weisbenner, 2000. "The Distributional Burden of Taxing Estates and Unrealized Capital Gains at the Time of Death," NBER Working Papers 7811, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  28. John Laitner & F. Thomas Juster, 1993. "New evidence on altruism: a study of TIAA-CREF retirees," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 86, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  29. David Altig, 2001. "Simulating Fundamental Tax Reform in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(3), pages 574-595, June.
  30. 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.
  31. Wolff, Edward N, 1996. "International Comparisons of Wealth Inequality," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 42(4), pages 433-51, December.
  32. King, M A & Dicks-Mireaux, L-D L, 1982. "Asset Holdings and the Life-Cycle," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(366), pages 247-67, June.
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