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American Economic Review 2009, 99:1, 146–178http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi 10.1257/aer.99.1.146Women, Wealth, and MobilityBy Lena Edlund and Wojciech Kopczuk*Using estate tax returns data, we observe that the share of women among thevery wealthy in the United States peaked in the late 1960s at nearly one-halfand then declined to one-third. We argue that this pattern reflects changes inthe importance of dynastic wealth, with the share of women proxying for inherited wealth. If so, wealth mobility decreased until the 1970s and rose thereafter.Such an interpretation is consistent with technological change driving longterm trends in mobility and inequality, as well as the recent divergence betweentop wealth and top income shares documented elsewhere. (JEL D31, J16, J62,O33)The extent of, and changes in, intergenerational mobility of wealth are central to understandingdynamics of wealth inequality, but are hard to measure. In this paper we argue that the share ofwomen among the wealthiest Americans can be used as a proxy for the importance of inherited relative to self-made wealth. This approach assumes that women tend to inherit rather than make greatfortunes. If so, a higher share of women among the wealthy would reflect a rise in inherited wealth atthe top, and, thus, lower wealth mobility. Conversely, higher wealth mobility where self-made wealthreplaces inherited wealth would result in more men at the top of the wealth distribution. Judged bythis proxy, and corroborated by various data sources, wealth mobility decreased in the period 1925–1969 and increased thereafter. Such a pattern is consistent with an important role for technologicalchange in shaping the wealth distribution, and can provide an explanation for why wealth concentration has remained stable, despite increasing income concentration in the last three decades.Over the past century, the share of women among the very wealthy followed an inverse-Upattern, peaking in the late 1960s. According to estate tax returns, in 1925 one-quarter of thewealthiest 0.01 percent were women. This fraction rose rapidly through World War II (WWII)and then more slowly to peak in 1969, when women neared parity with men. Since then, thedecline has been marked. By 2000, women’s share had fallen to one-third, its prewar level. Whilethe rise was evident among all wealth groups in the top 1 percent of the wealth distribution, thedecline was confined to the very top. Figure 1A graphs the share of women for four differentgroups in the top 1 percent among decedents by year. Figure 1B does the same for the “living”population with the help of estate-multipliers (a method that treats death as a random samplingdevice and uses mortality rates by age and gender to infer the distribution of wealth among theliving, as described in the Data Appendix).While the rise in the share of women among the wealthy until the 1960s could reflect improvements in women’s economic status, labor market gains work against the recent decline. Forinstance, since the 1970s, the share of women among top earners (top 0.1 percent) has risen by* Edlund: Department of Economics, Columbia University, 420 W 118th Street, New York, NY 10027 (e-mail:le93@columbia.edu); Kopczuk: Department of Economics and SIPA, Columbia University, 420 W 118th Street, NewYork, NY 10027 (e-mail: wk2110@columbia.edu). We have benefited from comments by Douglas Almond, BoyanJovanovic, Aloysius Siow, the editor, numerous anonymous referees, and seminar participants at the University ofMassachusetts at Amherst, Dartmouth University, and the 2006 ASSA meeting. Barry Johnson helped us in obtainingtabulations from the IRS estate tax returns. Emmanuel Saez provided the electronic version of Forbes data. The exposition of the paper has been greatly improved by the anonymous referees’ suggestions and Merriol Baring-Gould’s textediting. Financial support from the Program for Economic Research at Columbia University, the Sloan Foundation, andNational Science Foundation grant SES-0617737 is gratefully acknowledged.146

edlund and kopczuk: Women, Wealth, and MobilityVOL. 99 NO. 11470.5Fraction of women0.40.30.2Top 0.01%0.1Top 0.1%Top 0.1%P99 P99.60.019301940195019601970198019902000YearFigure 1a. Fraction of Females among DecedentsSource: Estate tax tabulations. See Data Appendix for details.a factor of six (Wojciech Kopczuk, Emmanuel Saez, and Jae Song 2007). Instead, we argue thepresence of women among the very wealthy mirrors the relative importance of inherited versusself-made wealth. Such a pattern could follow if men make wealth, but both men and womeninherit it.1 If so, changes to the gender wealth distribution may serve as a gauge of intergenerational wealth mobility at the top, about which there is little information.Our gender proxy for wealth mobility among the wealthy suggests that intergenerational wealthmobility decreased in the period 1925–1969 and increased thereafter. A U-shaped pattern forwealth mobility is consistent with a primary role for technological change in driving seculartrends in inequality, further discussed in Section IV. Moreover, higher wealth mobility in recentdecades coincides with a rise in income concentration (Thomas Piketty and Saez 2003). It is alsonoteworthy in light of the recent finding that top shares of wealth have increased very slowly oreven remained constant (Arthur Kennickell 2003; John Karl Scholz 2003; Kopczuk and Saez2004a), which has raised the question why income and wealth concentrations do not move in lockstep. The contrast between income and wealth concentration patterns is illustrated in Figures 2aand 2b. Our findings suggest a potential reconciliation. While wealth concentration has remainedstable, the composition of the wealthy may have changed. Less dynastic and more self-madewealth at the top is consistent with Piketty and Saez’s (2003) finding that recent increases inincome inequality were driven by labor rather than capital income inequality (assuming that theself-made derive a higher share of income from labor than those who inherited wealth).We are not the first to study wealth mobility. Recently, Kerwin Kofi Charles and Erik Hurst(2003) studied intergenerational wealth mobility using a sample representative of the full1In Section IIC we provide some supportive evidence that this assumption applies to the wealthy in the United Statesduring the twentieth century.

148March 2009THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW0.5Fraction of women0.40.30.2Top 0.01%0.1Top 0.1%P99.6–99.9P99 P99.60.019301940195019601970198019902000YearFigure 1b. Fraction of Females in the Living PopulationSource: Estate tax tabulations using estate-multiplier methodology. See Data Appendix for details.population (using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID)) and briefly surveyed the smallliterature on this topic. However, the PSID sample is too small to study the top of the wealthdistribution, where most wealth is held, and contains wealth information for only a short periodof time. The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) has better coverage of the top, but lacks thepanel dimension and is similarly limited in terms of time period. Beyond that, the study of wealthmobility has been limited to genealogical studies of named decedents (see James B. Davis andAnthony F. Shorrocks 2000, who also discuss the limitations of this approach).This paper draws on estate tax data, a source that offers several advantages. Unlike the PSIDor the SCF, wealth is attributed to an individual rather than a household, and the data allow forthe study of long-term trends. Estate tax data cover the very top of the distribution, allowing usto study groups as small as the top 0.01 percent of individuals. Since wealth is highly concentrated, the top is quantitatively important.2 Moreover, as seen in Figures 1a and 1b, it is alsoqualitatively different.Several pieces of evidence support our hypothesis. We construct a model of asset devolutionwhere only men generate wealth, but both men and women inherit, and we find that explainingthe estate tax data broken down by gender and marital status requires a U-shaped pattern in theimportance of self-made wealth. Second, two sets of “rich lists”—the Forbes list of the wealthiest 400 Americans compiled annually since 1982, and “A Classification of American Wealth”which chronicles wealthy Americans from 1675 and 1950 (at 25 year intervals)—provide directevidence on the relationship between the gender wealth distribution and the role of inherited2For instance, the estimated wealth held by those in the Forbes 400 (the top 1/50th of the top 0.01 percent) peaked atover 3.5 percent in 2000, and the top 1 percent of households is estimated to hold as much as 34 percent of total wealth(Scholz 2003; Kopczuk and Saez 2004a).

edlund and kopczuk: Women, Wealth, and MobilityVOL. 99 NO. 114912Wealth of top 0.01 percentIncome of top 0.01 percentWealth or income share108642019201940Year196019802000Figure 2a. Wealth and Income Concentration—Share of Top 0.01 PercentSources: Piketty and Saez (2003) and Kopczuk and Saez (2004a).wealth at the top. In both sets of lists, the fraction of those who inherited wealth and the fractionof women are highly correlated. Furthermore, from its start in 1982 to the present, the Forbeslist suggests a sharply diminished role of inherited wealth, while “A Classification of AmericanWealth” shows an increasing role for inherited wealth beginning in 1875 through its end year1950. Third, if the share of women among top wealth groups reflects the importance of inherited wealth, we would expect (the inverse of) measures of entrepreneurship to vary accordingly.Using Census data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), we find that thefraction of the labor force who are employers (a potential gauge of entrepreneurship) exhibited aU-shaped pattern over the last century.A note on terminology is warranted. We favor a distinction based on how wealth was primarily obtained: inherited (or bequeathed) or self-made. We will use the terms “rentiers” and “entrepreneurs” to denote those who inherited and made their wealth, respectively, unless otherwisespecified.The remainder of the paper proceeds as follows. Section I presents our primary data source—tabulations derived from the administrative estate tax data base—and supplementary data in theform of “rich-lists.” Section II presents a simple descriptive model that highlights mechanismsthat could drive changes in the gender and marital composition of the wealthy. We use this modelto evaluate the plausibility of our hypothesis and to infer the importance of inherited versus selfmade fortunes. We then discuss the validity of our key assumption that wealthy women at the toparrive at wealth through inheritance, and show direct evidence of changes to the relative importance of inherited and self-made wealth from rich-lists. In Section III, we consider a number ofalternative hypotheses, chief among which is changes to the tax code, changes that affect thetax-minimizing allocation of wealth between spouses. The marriage market changed substantially as well. Specifically, we discuss the role of divorce law liberalization and changing norms

150March 2009THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW40Wealth of top 0.01 percentIncome of top 0.01 percentWealth or income share302010019201940Year196019802000Figure 2b. Wealth and Income Concentration—Share of Top PercentSources: Piketty and Saez (2003) and Kopczuk and Saez (2004a).for spousal allocation of property. Finally, we discuss the role of changes to the distribution ofestates between community and non-community property states. Section IV concludes the paperwith a fuller discussion of how our findings relate to the literature on the role of technologicalchange and income concentration.I. DataOur main data source is the set of tabulations based on micro estate tax data collected by theStatistics of Income Division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The database of estate taxreturns contains all returns filed since the introduction of the federal estate tax in 1916 through1945, samples for 1962, 1965, 1969, 1972, 1976, and all years after 1982. Our data cover the period1925–2000.3 Table 1 shows the number of observations and population size by year and wealthcategory. The data contain most of the information recorded on the tax returns, including basicdemographic characteristic such as age, gender, marital status, and state of residence. Althoughthe database itself is confidential, we obtained very detailed tabulations by finely defined wealthcategories, marital property regime in place in the state of residence (not available in 1962 and1972), marital status (not available in 1965), and gender. We will concentrate on groups withinthe wealthiest 0.4 percent.43A more detailed description of the 1916–1945 data can be found in Janet G. McCubbin (1990), and the post-1945data are described in Barry W. Johnson (1994). Between 1916 and 1924 we have no information about marital status.4Due to the varying coverage of the estate tax, this is the largest group for which we can construct shares for allyears.

VOL. 99 NO. 1edlund and kopczuk: Women, Wealth, and Mobility151Table 1—Number of Observations in the Estate Tax Microdata by Year and GroupNumber of observationsYearTop 086281,133807829Population 492,0692,1563,7611,6951,315Top Source: Tabulations from the IRS estate micro data. See Data Appendix for details.We will study both the distribution of decedents and the distribution of the living constructedfrom estate tax returns. For the latter, we will employ the estate multiplier methodology as inKopczuk and Saez (2004a) and further discussed in the Data Appendix. The estate multipliermethodology amounts to weighting the population by the inverse of the mortality rate, essentiallytreating death as a random sampling device. As mentioned, Figure 1a shows the evolution overthe past century of the fraction of women among decedents in the top 1 percent divided in fourcategories: the wealthiest 0.01 percent (P99.99–100), the wealthiest 0.10 percent (P99.9–100),those between the top 0.10 percent and the top 0.40 percent (P99.60–99.90), and finally those

152THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEWMarch 2009between the top 0.40 percent and the top 1 percent (P99–99.6).5 Figure 1b shows the same seriesfor “the living,” where the data have been weighed by the estate multipliers.6There are two (not mutually exclusive) ways of viewing the difference between patternsemerging for decedents and the living. First, mechanically, estate-multiplier weighting putsgreater emphasis on younger individuals. Second, and relatedly, the estate multiplier techniqueshows values more representative of the whole population, not just because of mortality-adjustedweighting, but also because estates of younger decedents are much less likely to be skewed bytax-motivated planning. For instance, Kopczuk (2007) found that a substantial share of tax-motivated adjustments takes place following the onset of a terminal illness. Since younger individualsare more likely to have died unexpectedly, these types of adjustments are less important for theyoung. Lastly, the series for the living allows for differences in the age profile of wealth for menand women (and can thus account for differences in the length of time a person was wealthy).A. Other Data SourcesSince 1982, Forbes has published an annual list of the richest 400 Americans (the top 2 percent of our top group P99.99–100). Forbes does not rely on administrative data and attributeswealth to the person mainly responsible for its generation and not its ownership, a method thatlikely introduces a male bias compared to the estate tax data. Wealthy women may be less visiblethan wealthy men (e.g., from being less activist owners) and entrepreneurs tend to be male (e.g.,only Bill Gates appears on the list, not his spouse).For earlier periods, information is less comprehensive. We present data from “A Classificationof American Wealth,” “an online book being presently written by Drew Caradine Shouter(pseudonym) who has been studying the subject of wealth accumulation and society in Americafor many years.” The Web site contains lists of wealthy Americans, their biographies, familytrees, etc., and is compiled based on various historical sources.7We also make limited use of the list of some 4,000 millionaires in 1892 published by the NewYork Tribune.Both the Forbes list and the Classification contain information about the source of wealth, andspecify whether it was inherited. The New York Tribune list does not contain an explicit indicator for inheritance, but describes the source of wealth we rely on to assign inheritance status, asdescribed in the Data Appendix. None of the lists specifies explicitly the gender of the person.We assign gender relying on first names and other available information using the algorithmdescribed in the Data Appendix.We also use IPUMS (Steven Ruggles et al. 2004) extracts from Censuses for 1920 through2000. Further details are in the Data Appendix.II. Gender and Intergenerational Wealth MobilityIn this section we first formulate a simple descriptive model of asset devolution in whichonly men generate wealth but both men and women inherit. We use the model to estimate theshares of rentiers and self-made among the wealthy using the estate tax data. We find that theimplied share of entrepreneurs in the economy follows a U-shaped pattern over the study period,5Wealth thresholds in 2000 (2000 dollars) were 24,415,150, 5,503,678, 2,139,887, and 1,172,896, respectively.All figures based on estate tax returns use shares based on years t 2 to t 2 (when adjacent years areavailable).7"A Classification of American Wealth" is a subscription-based product available at http://www.raken.com/american weath/index.asp. We are grateful to the author for permission to use some of its content in this paper.6

VOL. 99 NO. 1edlund and kopczuk: Women, Wealth, and Mobility1531925–2000. We then consider those who never married. Simply put, if sons and daughters inheritequally, we would expect the surplus of men over women in this group to reflect the importanceof entrepreneurs. Indeed, the share of never married men over never married women in the estatedata also follows a U-shaped pattern. Next, we discuss patterns emerging from the Forbes 400list and "A Classification of American Wealth." The shares of women and rentiers are highly correlated

the top, and, thus, lower wealth mobility. Conversely, higher wealth mobility where self-made wealth replaces inherited wealth would result in more men at the top of the wealth distribution. Judged by this proxy, and corroborated by various data sources, wealth mobility decreased in the period 1925– 1969 and increased thereafter.

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