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Inheritances and the Distribution of Wealth or Whatever Happened to the Great Inheritance Boom? Results from the SCF and PSID

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  • Edward N. Wolff
  • Maury Gittleman

Abstract

Using data from both the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), we found that on average over the period from 1984 to 2007, about one fifth of American households at a given point of time received a wealth transfer and these accounted for about a quarter of their net worth. Over the lifetime, about 30 percent of households could expect to receive a wealth transfer and these would account for close to 40 percent of their net worth near time of death. However, there is little evidence of an inheritance "boom." In fact, from 1989 to 2007, the share of households in the SCF reporting a wealth transfer fell by 2.5 percentage points. The average value of inheritances received among all households did increase but at a slow pace, by 10 percent, but wealth transfers as a proportion of current net worth fell sharply over this period, from 29 to 19 percent. We also found, somewhat surprisingly, that inheritances and other wealth transfers tend to be equalizing in terms of the distribution of household wealth. Indeed, the addition of wealth transfers to other sources of household wealth has had a sizeable effect on reducing the inequality of wealth.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward N. Wolff & Maury Gittleman, 2011. "Inheritances and the Distribution of Wealth or Whatever Happened to the Great Inheritance Boom? Results from the SCF and PSID," NBER Working Papers 16840, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16840
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Wojciech Kopczuk & Joseph P. Lupton, 2007. "To Leave or Not to Leave: The Distribution of Bequest Motives," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(1), pages 207-235.
    2. Laitner, John & Ohlsson, Henry, 2001. "Bequest motives: a comparison of Sweden and the United States," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 205-236, January.
    3. William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1994. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Accumulation of Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 145-160, Fall.
    4. Jeffrey Brown & Scott Weisbenner, 2004. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings Behavior," NBER Chapters,in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 181-204 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Kessler, Denis & Masson, Andre, 1989. "Bequest and Wealth Accumulation: Are Some Pieces of the Puzzle Missing?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 141-152, Summer.
    6. Menchik, Paul L & David, Martin, 1983. "Income Distribution, Lifetime Savings, and Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 672-690, September.
    7. Edward N. Wolff & Ajit Zacharias & Thomas Masterson, 2012. "Trends In American Living Standards And Inequality, 1959–2007," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 58(2), pages 197-232, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2015. "New Theoretical Perspectives on the Distribution of Income and Wealth among Individuals: Part I. The Wealth Residual," NBER Working Papers 21189, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Mathä, Thomas Y. & Porpiglia, Alessandro & Ziegelmeyer, Michael, 2017. "Household wealth in the euro area: The importance of intergenerational transfers, homeownership and house price dynamics," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 1-12.
    3. Sebastian Leitner, 2015. "Drivers of wealth inequality in euro area countries," Working Paper Reihe der AK Wien - Materialien zu Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft 137, Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte für Wien, Abteilung Wirtschaftswissenschaft und Statistik.
    4. Begley, Jaclene, 2017. "Legacies of homeownership: Housing wealth and bequests," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 37-50.
    5. Laura Bartiloro & Cristiana Rampazzi, 2015. "Financial support from the family network during the crisis," Questioni di Economia e Finanza (Occasional Papers) 291, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    6. Emilio Zagheni & Brittney Wagner, 2015. "The impact of demographic change on intergenerational transfers via bequests," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 33(18), pages 525-534, September.
    7. Brunner Johann K., 2014. "Die Erbschaftsteuer – Bestandteil eines optimalen Steuersystems?," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, De Gruyter, vol. 15(3), pages 199-218, October.
    8. Eleni Karagiannaki, 2011. "The Magnitude and Correlates of Inter-vivos Transfers in the UK," CASE Papers case151, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics

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