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American Economic Review: Vol. 91 No. 4 (September 2001)

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

Article Citation

Bernheim, B. Douglas, Jonathan Skinner, and Steven Weinberg. 2001. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth among U.S. Households?" American Economic Review, 91(4): 832-857.

DOI: 10.1257/aer.91.4.832

Abstract

Even among households with similar socioeconomic characteristics, saving and wealth vary considerably. Life-cycle models attribute this variation to differences in time preference rates, risk tolerance, exposure to uncertainty, relative tastes for work and leisure at advanced ages, and income replacement rates. These factors have testable implications concerning the relation between accumulated wealth and the shape of the consumption profile. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we find little support for these implications. The data are instead consistent with "rule of thumb," "mental accounting," or hyperbolic discounting theories of wealth accumulation.

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Authors

Bernheim, B. Douglas (Stanford U and NBER)
Skinner, Jonathan (Dartmouth College and NBER)
Weinberg, Steven (Federal Reserve System)

JEL Classifications

D21: Firm Behavior
J26: Retirement; Retirement Policies
D12: Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis


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