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Bequests and Social Security With Uncertain Lifetimes


  • Andrew B. Abel


The fact that consumers do not know in advance the dates at which they will die effects their individual consumption and portfolio decisions. In general, some consumers will end up leaving bequests at death, even if they have no bequest motive, simply because they happen to die at a time when they are holding wealth to provide for their own future consumption. In the model of this paper,consumers who are otherwise identical, die (randomly) at different ages and thus leave bequests of different sizes to their heirs. Therefore, there is intra-cohort variation in wealth and consumption even if all consumers have the same labor income, taxes, and social security benefits. This paper presents explicit steady state distributions for consumption and wealth. The introduction of an actuarially fair social security system reduces steady state private wealth by more than one-for-one so that, even in a fully funded system, national wealth falls. In addition, all central moments of the steady state distributions of consumption and wealth are reduced by actuarially fair social security.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew B. Abel, 1984. "Bequests and Social Security With Uncertain Lifetimes," NBER Working Papers 1372, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1372
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
    2. Paul A. Samuelson, 1958. "An Exact Consumption-Loan Model of Interest with or without the Social Contrivance of Money," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 467-467.
    3. Levhari, David & Mirman, Leonard J, 1977. "Savings and Consumption with an Uncertain Horizon," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(2), pages 265-281, April.
    4. Eckstein, Zvi & Eichenbaum, Martin & Peled, Dan, 1985. "Uncertain lifetimes and the welfare enhancing properties of annuity markets and social security," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 303-326, April.
    5. Drazen, Allan, 1978. "Government Debt, Human Capital, and Bequests in a Life-Cycle Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(3), pages 505-516, June.
    6. Pelzman, Joseph & Rousslang, Don, 1982. "A Note on Uncertain Lifetimes: A Comment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(1), pages 181-183, February.
    7. Eytan Sheshinski & Yoram Weiss, 1981. "Uncertainty and Optimal Social Security Systems," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 96(2), pages 189-206.
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    Cited by:

    1. Smith, J.P., 1996. "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Wealth in the Health and Retirement Study," Papers 96-12, RAND - Reprint Series.
    2. Laitner, John & Juster, F Thomas, 1996. "New Evidence on Altruism: A Study of TIAA-CREF Retirees," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 893-908, September.
    3. Martin Feldstein, 1985. "Should Social Security Be Means Tested?," NBER Working Papers 1775, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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