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Why do wealthy parents have wealthy children?

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Abstract

Strong intergenerational correlations in wealth have fueled a long-standing debate over why children of wealthy parents tend to be well off themselves. We investigate the role of family background in determining children's wealth accumulation and investor behavior as adults. Our research design allows us to credibly control for genetic differences in abilities and preferences and to identify the effects of exogenous changes in specific dimensions of family background. The analysis is made possible by linking Korean-born children who were adopted at infancy by Norwegian parents to a population panel data set with detailed information on disaggregated wealth portfolios and socioeconomic characteristics. The mechanism by which these Korean-Norwegian adoptees were assigned to adoptive families is known and effectively random. We use the quasi-random assignment to estimate the causal effects from an adoptee being raised in one type of family versus another. Our findings show that family background matters significantly for children's accumulation of wealth and investor behavior as adults, even when removing the genetic connection between children and the parents raising them. In particular, adoptees raised by wealthy parents are more likely to be well off themselves, whereas adoptees' stock market participation and portfolio risk are increasing in the financial risk taking of their adoptive parents. These intergenerational causal links are not driven primarily by inter vivos transfers or bequests. The detailed nature of our data allows us to explore other mechanisms, assess the generalizability of the lessons from adoptees, and compare our findings to results from behavioral genetics decompositions.

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  • Andreas Fagereng & Magne Mogstad & Marte Rønning, 2015. "Why do wealthy parents have wealthy children?," Discussion Papers 813, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
  • Handle: RePEc:ssb:dispap:813
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    1. repec:eee:jeborg:v:142:y:2017:i:c:p:404-424 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Yonghong An & Wang Le & Ruli Xiao, 2015. "Your American Dream is Not Mine! A New Approach to Estimating Intergenerational Mobility Elasticities," CAEPR Working Papers 2015-016, Center for Applied Economics and Policy Research, Department of Economics, Indiana University Bloomington.
    3. Simon Halphen Boserup & Wojciech Kopczuk & Claus Thustrup Kreiner, 2018. "Born with a Silver Spoon? Danish Evidence on Wealth Inequality in Childhood," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 128(612), pages 514-544, July.
    4. Philipp Ager & Leah Platt Boustan & Katherine Eriksson, 2019. "The Intergenerational Effects of a Large Wealth Shock: White Southerners After the Civil War," NBER Working Papers 25700, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Adrian Adermon & Mikael Lindahl & Daniel Waldenström, 2018. "Intergenerational Wealth Mobility and the Role of Inheritance: Evidence from Multiple Generations," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 128(612), pages 482-513, July.
    6. Fagereng, Andreas & Guiso, Luigi & Malacrino, Davide & Pistaferri, Luigi, 2016. "Heterogeneity and Persistence in Returns to Wealth," CEPR Discussion Papers 11635, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Søren Leth-Petersen, & Louise C. Willerslev-Olsen, 2016. "Financial Trouble Across Generations:Evidence from the Universe of Personal Loans in Denmark," EPRU Working Paper Series 1601, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    8. E. Black , Sandra & Devereux, Paul & Lundborg, Petter & Majlesi, Kaveh, 2015. "Poor Little Rich Kids? The Determinants of the Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth," Knut Wicksell Working Paper Series 2015/6, Lund University, Knut Wicksell Centre for Financial Studies.
    9. repec:bla:jfinan:v:72:y:2017:i:5:p:2229-2278 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Markussen, Simen & Røed, Knut, 2017. "Egalitarianism under Pressure: Toward Lower Economic Mobility in the Knowledge Economy?," IZA Discussion Papers 10664, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    11. repec:eee:jeborg:v:150:y:2018:i:c:p:62-85 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Heinrich, Timo & Shachat, Jason, 2018. "The development of risk aversion and prudence in Chinese children and adolescents," MPRA Paper 86456, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Adermon, Adrian & Lindahl, Mikael & Palme, Mårten, 2016. "Dynastic human capital, inequality and intergenerational mobility," Working Paper Series 2016:19, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
    14. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Petter Lundborg & Kaveh Majlesi, 2015. "Poor Little Rich Kids? The Role of Nature versus Nurture in Wealth and Other Economic Outcomes and Behaviors," NBER Working Papers 21409, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Knüpfer, Samuli & Rantapuska, Elias & Sarvimäki, Matti, 2017. "Why does portfolio choice correlate across generations," Research Discussion Papers 25/2017, Bank of Finland.
    16. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Petter Lundborg & Kaveh Majlesi, 2017. "On the Origins of Risk-Taking in Financial Markets," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 72(5), pages 2229-2278, October.
    17. Bernt Bratsberg & Andreas Kotsadam & Jo Thori Lind & Halvor Mehlum & Oddbjørn Raaum, 2019. "Election Turnout Inequality - Insights from Administrative Registers," CESifo Working Paper Series 7465, CESifo Group Munich.
    18. Brown, Martin & Henchoz, Caroline & Spycher, Thomas, 2017. "Culture and Financial Literacy," Working Papers on Finance 1703, University of St. Gallen, School of Finance.

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    Keywords

    : Intergenerational transmission; wealth; financial risk taking; family background;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion

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