Charitable Bequests and Wealth at Death

December 16, 2012

By: Atkinson, Anthony B. (Nuffield College, Oxford)
Backus, Peter G. (University of Barcelona), Micklewright, John (Institute of Education, University of London)


Charitable bequests are a major source of income for charities but surprisingly little is known about them. The aim of this paper is to propose a multi-stage framework for analysing the bequest decision and to examine the evidence for Great Britain provided by new data on estates. The novelty of the framework is that it distinguishes between the different steps that lead to a charitable bequest. Our new data for Britain have the advantage of covering the whole population, in contrast to much of the US literature based on the small fraction of the population covered by estate tax returns. We focus on the relationship with wealth at death, on the form of the bequest, and on the different causes to which people bequeath.
Keywords: charitable donations, bequests, wealth, death, estate tax, NGOs
JEL: D12


The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class

December 11, 2012

The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class

By: Edward N. Wolff


I find that median wealth plummeted over the years 2007 to 2010, and by 2010 was at its lowest level since 1969. The inequality of net worth, after almost two decades of little movement, was up sharply from 2007 to 2010. Relative indebtedness continued to expand from 2007 to 2010, particularly for the middle class, though the proximate causes were declining net worth and income rather than an increase in absolute indebtedness. In fact, the average debt of the middle class actually fell in real terms by 25 percent. The sharp fall in median wealth and the rise in inequality in the late 2000s are traceable to the high leverage of middle class families in 2007 and the high share of homes in their portfolio. The racial and ethnic disparity in wealth holdings, after remaining more or less stable from 1983 to 2007, widened considerably between 2007 and 2010. Hispanics, in particular, got hammered by the Great Recession in terms of net worth and net equity in their homes. Households under age 45 also got pummeled by the Great Recession, as their relative and absolute wealth declined sharply from 2007 to 2010.
JEL: D31

Mapping and measuring the distribution of household wealth: A cross-country analysis

December 11, 2012

Mapping and measuring the distribution of household wealth: A cross-country analysis

By: Frank A Cowell
Eleni Karagiannaki
Abigail McKnight

In this paper we compare the level, composition and distribution of household wealth in five industrial countries: the UK, US, Italy, Finland and Sweden. We exploit the harmonized data within the Luxembourg Wealth Study, which we have extended to allow us to examine trends in the UK and the US between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. Remaining differences between surveys, variable definitions and coverage are highlighted to the extent that they impact on cross-country comparisons. We find that the Nordic countries have lower average wealth holdings, smaller absolute gaps between low wealth and high wealth households but high relative measures of wealth inequality. Italian households hold very little debt and are much more likely to own their homes outright, leading to relatively high median levels of wealth. In contrast American households tend to hold much more housing debt well into retirement. Increases in owner occupation and house prices 2000-05 in the UK has led to substantial increases in wealth, particularly median wealth holdings and this had led to falls in relative measures of wealth inequality such as the Gini coefficient even though absolute gaps between high and low wealth households have grown substantially. We show that there are underlying country differences in terms of distributions of age, household composition, educational attainment and income as well as wealth and debt portfolios. Educational loans are increasing in their size and prevalence in some countries and look set to create some marked differences in the distribution of wealth for different age cohorts.
Keywords: household wealth, wealth inequality, debt, housing assets, educational loans, age-wealth profiles
JEL: C81

Intergenerational Earnings Mobility and Preferences for Redistribution

December 5, 2012

By: Siedler, Thomas (University of Hamburg)
Sonnenberg, Bettina (DIW Berlin)


This paper analyzes the extent to which intergenerational upward and downward mobility in earnings are related to individuals’ preferences for redistribution. A novel survey question from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study – whether the taxes paid by unskilled workers are too high, adequate or too low – are used to elicit attitudes toward redistribution. Intergenerational mobility with regard to long-term earnings is measured using a rich panel data spanning an observation window of 22 years. The results reveal that intergenerational mobility is significantly related to preferences for redistribution. The empirical results yield strong and robust support for Piketty’s (1995) rational-learning theory: individuals who experience upward (downward) intergenerational mobility are less (more) likely to favor redistribution taxation policies.
Keywords: preferences for redistribution, intergenerational mobility, long-run earnings, panel data
JEL: J62

Social Spending and Income Redistribution in Argentina During the 2000s: the Rising Role of Noncontributory Pensions

December 5, 2012

By: Nora Lustig and Carola Pessino


Between 2003 and 2009, Argentina’s social spending as a share of GDP increased by 7.6 percentage points. Marginal benefit incidence analysis for 2003, 2006, and 2009 suggests that the contribution of cash transfers to the reduction of disposable income inequality and poverty rose markedly between 2006 and 2009 primarily due to the launching of a noncontributory pension program – the pension moratorium – in 2004. Noncontributory pensions as a share of GDP rose by 2.2 percentage points between 2003 and 2009 and entailed a redistribution of income to the poor, and from the formal sector pensioners with above minimum pensions to the beneficiaries of the pension moratorium. The redistributive impact of the expansion of public spending on education and health was also sizeable and equalizing, but to a lesser degree. An assessment of fiscal funding sources puts the sustainability of the redistributive policies into question, unless nonsocial spending is significantly cut.
Keywords: social spending, benefit incidence, inequality, poverty, Argentina
JEL: D31