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Requiem For The Representative Consumer? Aggregate Implications Of Microeconomic Consumption Behavior


  • Christopher Carroll

    (Johns Hopkins)


Macroeconomists pursuing microfoundations for aggregate consumption have generally adopted one of two approaches: either to model microeconomic consumption behavior carefully and then to aggregate, or to thoroughly understand the behavior of a `representative consumer' in general equilibrium, then to introduce microeconomic risk and heterogeneity. The broad conclusion from the `bottom up' approach has been that precautionary saving and microeconomic heterogeneity can profoundly change behavior (Stephen P. Zeldes (1989); Angus S. Deaton (1991); Christopher D. Carroll (1992)). The broad conclusion from the `top down' approach has been that precautionary saving is of little importance in determining the aggregate capital stock (S. Rao Aiyagari (1994); Per Krusell and Anthony A. Smith (1998)), leading some economists to conclude that heterogeneity is unimportant for macroeconomic purposes. This paper shows that while general equilibrium effects do imply that the aggregate magnitude of precautionary saving is modest, nevertheless when a model with uninsurable idiosyncratic risk is modified so that it can match the key micro facts, it produces behavior very different in important respects from that produced by the representative agent economy. This leads to the conclusion that for many purposes, the representative consumer model should be abandoned in favor of a model which matches key microeconomic facts.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Carroll, 2000. "Requiem For The Representative Consumer? Aggregate Implications Of Microeconomic Consumption Behavior," Computing in Economics and Finance 2000 320, Society for Computational Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sce:scecf0:320

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Deaton, Angus, 1991. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1221-1248, September.
    2. McCarthy, Jonathan, 1995. "Imperfect insurance and differing propensities to consume across households," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 301-327, November.
    3. 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.
    4. John Y. Campbell & N. Gregory Mankiw, 1989. "Consumption, Income and Interest Rates: Reinterpreting the Time Series Evidence," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1989, Volume 4, pages 185-246 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. repec:fth:harver:1435 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. S. Rao Aiyagari, 1994. "Uninsured Idiosyncratic Risk and Aggregate Saving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 659-684.
    7. Huggett, Mark, 1996. "Wealth distribution in life-cycle economies," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 469-494, December.
    8. Robert E. Hall, 1987. "Consumption," NBER Working Papers 2265, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Lusardi, A., 1992. "Permanent Income, Current Income and Consumption: Evidence form Panel Data," Papers 9253, Tilburg - Center for Economic Research.
    10. Carroll, Christopher D & Kimball, Miles S, 1996. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 981-992, July.
    11. Tullio Jappelli & Luigi Pistaferri, 2006. "Intertemporal Choice and Consumption Mobility," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 4(1), pages 75-115, March.
    12. Cochrane, John H, 1991. "A Simple Test of Consumption Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 957-976, October.
    13. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    14. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
    15. Attanasio, Orazio & Davis, Steven J, 1996. "Relative Wage Movements and the Distribution of Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(6), pages 1227-1262, December.
    16. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
    17. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
    18. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
    19. Alan P. Kirman, 1992. "Whom or What Does the Representative Individual Represent?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(2), pages 117-136, Spring.
    20. 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.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E10 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - General


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