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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2001. "The Empirical Importance of Precautionary Saving," NBER Working Papers 8107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8107
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Constantinides, George M & Duffie, Darrell, 1996. "Asset Pricing with Heterogeneous Consumers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 219-240, April.
    2. Kjetil Storesletten & Chris Telmer & Amir Yaron, 2007. "Asset Pricing with Idiosyncratic Risk and Overlapping Generations," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 10(4), pages 519-548, October.
    3. Deaton, Angus, 1991. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1221-1248, September.
    4. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
    5. Stephen P. Zeldes, 1989. "Optimal Consumption with Stochastic Income: Deviations from Certainty Equivalence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(2), pages 275-298.
    6. Carroll, Christopher D & Kimball, Miles S, 1996. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 981-992, July.
    7. Christopher D. Carroll, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55.
    8. Jonathan A. Parker & Bruce Preston, 2005. "Precautionary Saving and Consumption Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1119-1143, September.
    9. Per Krusell & Anthony A. Smith & Jr., 1998. "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(5), pages 867-896, October.
    10. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, 2000. "Precautionary Savings, LifeCycle and Macroeconomics," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0793, Econometric Society.
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    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making

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