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On-the-Job Search and Precautionary Savings: Theory and Empirics of Earnings and Wealth Inequality

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  • Jeremy Lise

Abstract

In this paper, I develop and estimate a model of the labor market that can account for both the inequality in earnings and the much larger inequality in wealth observed in the data. I show that an equilibrium model of on-the-job search, augmented to account for saving decisions of workers, provides a direct and intuitive link between the empirical earnings and wealth distributions. The mechanism that generates the high degree of wealth inequality in the model is the dynamic of the ``wage ladder'' resulting from the search process. There is an important asymmetry between the incremental wage increases generated by on-the-job search (climbing the ladder) and the drop in income associated with job loss (falling off the ladder). This feature of the model generates differential savings behavior at different points in the earnings distribution. The wage growth expected by low wage workers, combined with the fact that their earnings are not much higher than unemployment benefits, causes them to dis-save. As a worker's wage increases, the incentive to save increases: the potential for wage growth declines and it becomes increasingly important to insure against the large income reduction associated with job loss. The fact that high wage and low wage workers have such different savings behavior generates an equilibrium wealth distribution that is much more unequal than the equilibrium wage distribution. I estimate the structural parameters of the model by simulation-based methods using the 1979 youth cohort of the NLSY. The estimates indicate that the micro-level search and savings behavior---estimated from the dynamics of individuals' labor market histories and wealth accumulation decisions---aggregates to replicate the cross-sectional inequality in earnings and wealth for this cohort.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeremy Lise, 2006. "On-the-Job Search and Precautionary Savings: Theory and Empirics of Earnings and Wealth Inequality," 2006 Meeting Papers 137, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed006:137
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    Cited by:

    1. Ben Lodewijks, 2011. "Financial Constraints and Job Mobility in Australia," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 87(276), pages 61-75, March.
    2. Guler, Bulent & Guvenen, Fatih & Violante, Giovanni L., 2012. "Joint-search theory: New opportunities and new frictions," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(4), pages 352-369.
    3. L. Arrondel & M. Roger & F. Savignac, 2014. "Wealth and Income in the Euro Area: Heterogeneity in Households’ Behaviours?," Working papers 497, Banque de France.
    4. David Card & Raj Chetty & Andrea Weber, 2007. "Cash-on-Hand and Competing Models of Intertemporal Behavior: New Evidence from the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1511-1560.
    5. Bowlus, Audra J. & Liu, Huju, 2013. "The contributions of search and human capital to earnings growth over the life cycle," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 305-331.
    6. Vejlin, Rune, 2017. "Optimal Unemployment Insurance: How Important Is The Demand Side?," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 21(8), pages 2070-2095, December.
    7. Lammers, Marloes, 2014. "The effects of savings on reservation wages and search effort," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(C), pages 83-98.
    8. Christian Bayer & Klaus Waelde, 2011. "Describing the Dynamics of Distributions in Search and Matching Models by Fokker-Planck Equations," Working Papers 1110, Gutenberg School of Management and Economics, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, revised 21 Jul 2011.
    9. Flabbi, Luca & Mabli, James, 2012. "Household Search or Individual Search: Does It Matter? Evidence from Lifetime Inequality Estimates," IZA Discussion Papers 6908, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    labor search; savings; consumption; wealth inequality;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity

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