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Why Parents Play Favorites: Explanations for Unequal Bequests

  • Audrey Light

    ()

  • Kathleen McGarry

Economists have invested a great deal of effort in trying to understand the motivation for family transfers, yet recent empirical work testing the seemingly appealing models of altruism and exchange has led to decidedly mixed results. A major stumbling block has been the lack of adequate data. We take a fresh look at the issue using responses to an innovative survey question that directly asks mother about the planned division of their estates. We find that both altruism and exchange are frequently offered as explanations of behavior and are of nearly equal importance. Furthermore, the explanations are consistent with observable characteristics of the mother, lending support to the validity of the question. We also find that among step or adopted families, genetic ties play an important role. Because motivating factors appear to differ across families the lack of a consensus among previous researchers about motives ought not to be surprising.

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File URL: http://economics.sbs.ohio-state.edu/pdf/alight/wp03-01.pdf
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Paper provided by Ohio State University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 03-01.

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Date of creation: Feb 2003
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Handle: RePEc:osu:osuewp:03-01
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  1. Bernheim, B Douglas & Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H, 1985. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(6), pages 1045-76, December.
  2. Stefan Hochguertal & Henry Ohlsson, 2000. "Inter Vivos Gifts: Compensatory or Equal Sharing?," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0699, Econometric Society.
  3. Joseph G. Altonji & Fumio Hayashi & Laurence Kotlikoff, . "Parental Altruism and Inter Vivos Transfers: Theory and Evidence," IPR working papers 95-22, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
  4. McGarry, K & Schoeni, R-F, 1996. "Measurement and the Redistribution of Resources Within the Family," Papers 96-11, RAND - Reprint Series.
  5. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1979. "An Equilibrium Theory of the Distribution of Income and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1153-89, December.
  6. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
  7. Audrey Light & Kathleen McGarry, 2003. "Why Parents Play Favorites: Explanations for Unequal Bequests," Working Papers 03-01, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
  8. Wilhelm, M.O., 1990. "Bequest Behavior And The Effect Of Heirs' Earnings: Testing The Altruistic Model Of Bequests," Papers 9-90-12, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  9. Cox, Donald & Stark, Oded, 2004. "On The Demand For Grandchildren: Tied Transfers And The Demonstration Effect," Discussion Papers 18751, University of Bonn, Center for Development Research (ZEF).
  10. Michael D. Hurd & Kathleen McGarry, 2002. "The Predictive Validity of Subjective Probabilities of Survival," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(482), pages 966-985, October.
  11. Altonji, Joseph G & Hayashi, Fumio & Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1992. "Is the Extended Family Altruistically Linked? Direct Tests Using Micro Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1177-98, December.
  12. Laitner, John & Ohlsson, Henry, 1998. "Bequest Motives: A Comparison of Sweden and the United States," Working Paper Series 1998:16, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
  13. Kathleen McGarry, 2000. "Testing Parental Altruism: Implications of a Dynamic Model," NBER Working Papers 7593, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. McGarry, K. & Schoeni, R.F., 1995. "Transfer Behavior With the Family: Results from the Asset and Health Dynamics Survey," Papers 95-09, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
  15. B. Douglas Bernheim & Sergei Severinov, 2003. "Bequests as Signals: An Explanation for the Equal Division Puzzle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(4), pages 733-764, August.
  16. Tomes, Nigel, 1981. "The Family, Inheritance, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 928-58, October.
  17. Laitner, John & Juster, F Thomas, 1996. "New Evidence on Altruism: A Study of TIAA-CREF Retirees," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 893-908, September.
  18. Andreoni, James, 1989. "Giving with Impure Altruism: Applications to Charity and Ricardian Equivalence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1447-58, December.
  19. Robert F. Schoeni, 2000. "Support Networks within the Family As a Public Good Problem," Working Papers 00-06, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  20. Jeff Dominitz, 1998. "Earnings Expectations, Revisions, And Realizations," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(3), pages 374-388, August.
  21. Cox, Donald & Rank, Mark R, 1992. "Inter-vivos Transfers and Intergenerational Exchange," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(2), pages 305-14, May.
  22. Kathleen McGarry & Robert F. Schoeni, 1994. "Transfer Behavior: Measurement and the Redistribution of Resources within the Family," NBER Working Papers 4607, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1063-93, Nov.-Dec..
  24. repec:att:wimass:8905 is not listed on IDEAS
  25. Menchik, Paul L, 1980. "Primogeniture, Equal Sharing, and the U. S. Distribution of Wealth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(2), pages 299-316, March.
  26. Donald Cox, 2001. "How Do People Decide to Allocate Transfers Among Family Members?," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 514, Boston College Department of Economics.
  27. McGarry, Kathleen, 1999. "Inter vivos transfers and intended bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 321-351, September.
  28. Cox, Donald, 1987. "Motives for Private Income Transfers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(3), pages 508-46, June.
  29. Dunn, Thomas A. & Phillips, John W., 1997. "The timing and division of parental transfers to children," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 135-137, February.
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