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The Level and Composition of Consumption Over the Business Cycle: The Role of "Quasi-Fixed" Expenditures

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  • Kerwin Kofi Charles
  • Melvin Stephens, Jr.

Abstract

We study how the level and composition of household expenditures changes over the business cycle for households at different positions in the income distribution. Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we find that transitory, state-specific increases in unemployment causes lower income groups to lower their total expenditure outlays, contrary to the prediction of the textbook account of consumption behavior. In addition, in bad economic times these groups raise the share of their total outlays devoted to relative fixed outlays like home or car payments. These adjustments are primarily concentrated among reductions in outlays devoted to entertainment and personal care expenditures. We find no similar effects for households at higher positions in the income distribution. It is difficult to attribute these differences across households to differences in credit constraints, both because the specific results for credit holdings are imprecisely estimated and because income losses experienced by higher SES households are so small that there is, for them, little need to adjust consumption.

Suggested Citation

  • Kerwin Kofi Charles & Melvin Stephens, Jr., 2006. "The Level and Composition of Consumption Over the Business Cycle: The Role of "Quasi-Fixed" Expenditures," NBER Working Papers 12388, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12388
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    Cited by:

    1. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2013. "Deconstructing Life Cycle Expenditure," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(3), pages 437-492.
    2. Rong Hai & Dirk Krueger & Andrew Postlewaite, 2013. "On the Welfare Cost of Consumption Fluctuationsin the Presence of Memorable Goods," PIER Working Paper Archive 13-046, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
    3. Rong Hai & Andrew Postlewaite & Dirk Krueger, 2013. "On the Welfare Cost of Consumption Fluctuations in the Presence of Memorable Goods, Second Version," PIER Working Paper Archive 14-012, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 15 Apr 2014.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity

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