The Correlation of Welath Across Generations

Kerwin Kofi Charles, Erik Hurst

NBER Working Paper No. 9314
Issued in November 2002
NBER Program(s):   LS

This paper examines the similarity in wealth between parents and their children, and explores alternative explanations for this relationship. We find that the age-adjusted elasticity of child wealth with respect to parental wealth is 0.37, before the transfer of bequests. Lifetime income and ownership of particular assets, both of which exhibit strong intergeneration similarity, jointly explain nearly two-thirds of the wealth elasticity. Education, past parental transfers, and expected future bequests account for little of the remaining elasticity. Using new experimental evidence, we assess the importance of risk tolerance. The risk tolerance measures vary as theory would predict with the ownership of risky assets, and are highly correlated between parents and children. However, they explain little of the intergenerational correlation in the propensity to own different assets, suggesting that children's savings propensities are determined by mimicking their parents' behavior, or the inheritance of preferences not related to risk tolerance. Additionally, these risk tolerance measures explain only a small part of the remaining intergenerational wealth elasticity.

download in pdf format
   (342 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (342 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9314

Published: Charles, Kerwin Kofi and Erik Hurst. "The Correlation Of Wealth Across Generations," Journal of Political Economy, 2003, v111(6,Dec), 1155-1182. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Black and Devereux w15889 Recent Developments in Intergenerational Mobility
Becker and Tomes Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families
Altonji, Hayashi, and Kotlikoff w5522 The Effects of Income and Wealth on Time and Money Transfers between Parents and Children
Kimball, Sahm, and Shapiro w14754 Risk Preferences in the PSID: Individual Imputations and Family Covariation
Edlund and Kopczuk w13162 Women, Wealth and Mobility
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us