NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Longitudinal Determinants of End-of-Life Wealth Inequality

James M. Poterba, Steven F. Venti, David A. Wise

NBER Working Paper No. 23839
Issued in September 2017
NBER Program(s):AG, HC, PE

This paper examines inequality in end-of-life wealth and the factors that contribute to individuals reaching this life stage with few financial resources. It analyzes repeated cross-sections of the Health and Retirement Study, as well as a small longitudinal sample of individuals observed both at age 65 and shortly before death. Most of those who die with little wealth had little wealth at retirement. There is strong persistence over time in the bottom tail of the wealth distribution, but the probability of having low wealth increases slowly with age after age 65. Those with low lifetime earnings are much more likely to report low wealth at retirement, and to die with little wealth, than their higher-earning contemporaries. The onset of a major medical condition and the loss of a spouse increase in the probability of falling into the low wealth category at advanced ages, although these factors appear to contribute to wealth decline for only a small fraction of those who had modest wealth at age 65 but low wealth at the time of death.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23839

 
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