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What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth Among U.S. Households?

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  • B. Douglas Bernheim
  • Jonathan Skinner
  • Steven Weinberg

Abstract

September 1997 Household survey data consistently depict large variations in saving and wealth, even among households with similar socio-economic characteristics. Within the context of the life cycle hypothesis, families with identical lifetime resources might choose to accumulate different levels of wealth for a variety of reasons, including variation in time preference rates, risk tolerance, exposure to uncertainty, relative tastes for work and leisure at advanced ages, income replacement rates, and so forth. These factors can be divided into a small number of classes, each with a distinctive implication concerning the relation between accumulated wealth and the shape of the consumption profile. By examining this relation empirically, one can test for the presence or absence of particular factors. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we find very little support for life cycle models that rely on the above factors to explain wealth variation. The data are, however, consistent with “rule of thumb” or “mental accounting” theories of wealth accumulation.

Suggested Citation

  • B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Skinner & Steven Weinberg, 1997. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth Among U.S. Households?," Working Papers 97035, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:stanec:97035
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D21 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Theory
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis

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