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The Empirical Importance of Precautionary Saving

  • Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas
  • Jonathan A. Parker

One of the basic motives for saving is the accumulation of wealth to insure future welfare. Both introspection and extant research on consumption insurance find that people face substantial risks that they do not fairly pool. In theory, the consumption and wealth accumulation of price-taking households in an economy with incomplete markets differs substantially from the behavior of these same households in the equivalent economy with complete-markets. The question we address in this article is whether we find this difference to be large in practice. What is the empirical importance of precautionary saving? We provide a simple decomposition that characterizes the importance of precautionary saving in the U.S. economy. We use this decomposition as an organizing framework to present four main findings: (a) the concavity of the consumption policy rule, (b) the importance of precautionary saving for life-cycle saving and wealth accumulation, (c) the contribution of changes in risk to fluctuations in aggregate consumption and (d) the significant impact of incomplete markets on aggregate fluctuations in calibrated general equilibrium models. We conclude with directions for future research.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8107.

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Date of creation: Feb 2001
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Publication status: published as Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2001. "The Empirical Importance of Precautionary Saving," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 406-412, May.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8107
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  1. Krusell, P & Smith Jr, A-A, 1995. "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomic," RCER Working Papers 399, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  2. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, 2000. "Precautionary Savings, LifeCycle and Macroeconomics," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0793, Econometric Society.
  3. Constantinides,George & Duffie,Darrel, 1992. "Asset pricing with heterogeneous consumers," Discussion Paper Serie A 381, University of Bonn, Germany.
  4. Jonathan A. Parker & Bruce Preston, 2005. "Precautionary Saving and Consumption Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1119-1143, September.
  5. Stephen Zeldes, . "Optimal Consumption with Stochastic Income: Deviations from Certainty Equivalence," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 20-86, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  6. Storesletten, Kjetil & Telmer, Chris & Yaron, Amir, 2001. "Asset Pricing with Idiosyncratic Risk and Overlapping Generations," CEPR Discussion Papers 3065, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Christopher D. Carroll & Miles S. Kimball, 1995. "On the concavity of the consumption function," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 95-10, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Deaton, A., 1989. "Saving And Liquidity Constraints," Papers 153, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
  9. Carroll, Christopher D, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55, February.
  10. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," NBER Working Papers 7271, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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