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Stochastic Earnings Growth and Equilibrium Wealth Distributions


  • Thomas J. Sargent
  • Neng Wang
  • Jinqiang Yang


The cross-section distribution of U.S. wealth is more skewed than the distribution of labor earnings. Stachurski and Toda (2019) explain how plain vanilla Bewley-Aiyagari-Huggett (BAH) models with infinitely lived agents can't generate that pattern because an equilibrium risk-free rate is lower than the time rate of preference and each person's wealth process is stationary. We provide two modifications of a BAH model that generate this pattern: (1) overlapping generations of agents who have low wealth at birth and pass through N life-stage transitions of stochastic lengths, and (2) labor-earnings processes that exhibit stochastic growth. With only a few parameters such a model can well approximate mappings from the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient for cross-sections of labor earnings to their counterparts for cross sections of wealth. Three forces amplify inequality in wealth relative to inequality in labor-earnings: stochastic life-stage transitions; a precautionary savings motive for high wage earners that is especially strong after they receive positive permanent earnings shocks; and an energetic life-cycle saving motive for agents who have low wealth at birth. An equilibrium risk-free interest rate that exceeds a time preference rate fosters a fat-tailed wealth distribution.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas J. Sargent & Neng Wang & Jinqiang Yang, 2021. "Stochastic Earnings Growth and Equilibrium Wealth Distributions," NBER Working Papers 28473, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28473
    Note: AP EFG ME

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    Cited by:

    1. Sergio Rebelo & Neng Wang & Jinqiang Yang, 2022. "Rare Disasters, Financial Development, and Sovereign Debt," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 77(5), pages 2719-2764, October.
    2. Dirk Krueger & Harald Uhlig, 2022. "Neoclassical Growth with Long-Term One-Sided Commitment Contracts," NBER Working Papers 30518, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Serrano, Rafael, 2023. "Climbing the income ladder: Search and investment in a regime-switching affine income model," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 58(PA).
    4. Dirk Krueger & Harald Uhlig, 2024. "Neoclassical Growth with Limited Commitment," PIER Working Paper Archive 22-023, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth

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