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Population Age Structure and Asset Returns: An Empirical Investigation

  • James M. Poterba

This paper investigates the association between population age structure, particularly the share of the population in the saving years is motivated by the claim that the aging of the in the United States is a key factor in explaining the recent rise in asset values. It also addresses the associated claim that asset prices will decline when this large cohort reaches retirement age and begins to reduce its asset holdings. This paper begins by considering household age-asset accumulation profiles. Data from the Survey of Consumer Finances suggest that while cross-sectional age-wealth profiles peak for households in their early 60s, cohort data on the asset ownership of the same households show a much less pronounced peak. Wealthy households with substantial asset holdings appear to decumulate slowly, if at all, after retirement. This casts doubt on the (excluding defined benefit pension assets) that households control directly. The paper then considers the historical relationship between demographic structure and real returns on Treasury bills, long-term government bonds, and corporate stock. The results do not suggest any robust relationship between demographic structure and asset returns. This is partly due to the limited power of statistical tests based on the few structure and asset returns in the United States and other developed economies. The paper concludes by discussing factors such as international capital flows and forward-looking behavior on the part of market participants that could weaken the relationship between age structure and asset returns in a single nation.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6774.

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Date of creation: Oct 1998
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6774
Note: AP
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  1. Mankiw, N. Gregory & Weil, David N., 1989. "The baby boom, the baby bust, and the housing market," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 235-258, May.
  2. Poterba, J.M. & Samwick, A.A., 1996. "Stock Ownership Patterns, Stock Market Fluctuations, and Consumption," Working papers 96-2, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  3. French, Kenneth R & Poterba, James M, 1991. "Investor Diversification and International Equity Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 222-26, May.
  4. James M. Poterba & Andrew Samwick, 2001. "Household Portfolio Allocation over the Life Cycle," NBER Chapters, in: Aging Issues in the United States and Japan, pages 65-104 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Alan M. Taylor, 1996. "International Capital Mobility in History: The Saving-Investment Relationship," NBER Working Papers 5743, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Martin Feldstein & Charles Horioka, 1979. "Domestic Savings and International Capital Flows," NBER Working Papers 0310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Steven A. Sass & Robert K. Triest, 1997. "Social Security: how social and secure should it be?," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 41(Jun), pages 29-63.
  8. Granger, C. W. J. & Newbold, P., 1974. "Spurious regressions in econometrics," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 2(2), pages 111-120, July.
  9. Bohn, Henning, 1999. "Will social security and Medicare remain viable as the U.S. population is aging?," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 1-53, June.
  10. Patric H. Hendershott, 1991. "Are Real House Prices Likely to Decline by 47 Percent?," NBER Working Papers 3880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Sylvester J. Schieber & John B. Shoven, 1994. "The Consequences of Population Aging on Private Pension Fund Saving and Asset Markets," NBER Working Papers 4665, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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