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How Strong are Bequest Motives? Evidence Based on Estimates of the Demand for Life Insurance and Annuities

  • B. Douglas Bernheim

This paper presents new empirical evidence in support of the view that a significant fraction of total saving is motivated solely by the desire to leave bequests. Specifically, I find that Social Security annuity benefits significantly raise life insurance holdings and depress private annuity holdings among elderly individuals. These patterns indicate that the typical household would choose to maintain a positive fraction of its resources in bequeathable forms, even if insurance markets were perfect. Evidence on the relationship between insurance purchases and total resources reinforces this conclusion.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w2942.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2942.

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Date of creation: Apr 1989
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 99, No. 5, pp. 899-927, (October) 1991.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2942
Note: PE
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  1. Alan J. Auerbach & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1985. "Life Insurance of the Elderly: Adequacy and Determinants," NBER Working Papers 1737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Daniel E. Smith, 1983. "Pensions in the American Economy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kotl83-1, June.
  3. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Avia Spivak, 1979. "The Family as an Incomplete Annuities Market," NBER Working Papers 0362, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Lawrence H. Summers, 1980. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers in Aggregate Capital Accumulation," NBER Working Papers 0445, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1979. "Testing the Theory of Social Security and Life Cycle Accumulation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 396-410, June.
  7. Hurd, Michael D, 1987. "Savings of the Elderly and Desired Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 298-312, June.
  8. Davies, James B, 1981. "Uncertain Lifetime, Consumption, and Dissaving in Retirement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(3), pages 561-77, June.
  9. Dicks-Mireaux, Louis & King, Mervyn, 1984. "Pension wealth and household savings: Tests of robustness," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(1-2), pages 115-139.
  10. 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.
  11. Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H. & Bernheim, B. Douglas, 1986. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Scholarly Articles 3721794, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  12. Bernheim, B. Douglas, 1987. "The economic effects of social security : Toward a reconciliation of theory and measurement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 273-304, August.
  13. Diamond, P. A. & Hausman, J. A., 1984. "Individual retirement and savings behavior," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(1-2), pages 81-114.
  14. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1988. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 41-58, Spring.
  15. Feldstein, Martin S, 1974. "Social Security, Induced Retirement, and Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(5), pages 905-26, Sept./Oct.
  16. Abel, Andrew B, 1985. "Precautionary Saving and Accidental Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 777-91, September.
  17. Feldstein, Martin & Pellechio, Anthony, 1979. "Social Security and Household Wealth Accumulation: New Microeconometric Evidence," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 61(3), pages 361-68, August.
  18. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1976. "Equilibrium in Competitive Insurance Markets: An Essay on the Economics of Imperfect Information," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 630-49, November.
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