NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Wealthy Hand-to-Mouth

Greg Kaplan, Giovanni L. Violante, Justin Weidner

NBER Working Paper No. 20073
Issued in April 2014
NBER Program(s):AP, EFG, IFM, ME

The wealthy hand-to-mouth are households who hold little or no liquid wealth (cash, checking, and savings accounts), despite owning sizable amounts of illiquid assets (assets that carry a transaction cost, such as housing or retirement accounts). We use survey data on household portfolios for the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain to document the share of such households across countries, their demographic characteristics, the composition of their balance sheets, and the persistence of hand-to-mouth status over the life cycle. The portfolio configuration of the wealthy hand-to-mouth suggests that these households may have a high marginal propensity to consume out of transitory income changes, a prediction for which we find empirical support in PSID data. We explain the implications of this group of consumers for macroeconomic modeling and fiscal policy analysis.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20073

Published: Greg Kaplan & Giovanni L. Violante & Justin Weidner, 2014. "The Wealthy Hand-to-Mouth," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, vol 2014(1), pages 77-138.

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