John Laitner

Contact Information

The University of Michigan
Department of Economics
311 Lorch Hall
611 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220
Tel: (734) 763-9620
Tel (Institute for Social Research): (734) 615-4582

Links to Data

TIAA-CREF Survey data now available online.


Laitner CV .

Working Papers

Health Status and Post-Retirement Wealth Decumulation
Although Modigliani's life-cycle framework has households build net worth during work years and then spend it down evenly during retirement, survey data seldom seems to bear out the theory's tidy end-of-life decumulation prediction. Recent work, for example, suggests a stair-step pattern: it is as if a household's bequeathable wealth falls rather abruptly at about the time of the death of each adult but otherwise stays roughly constant or even rises. The present paper modifies a standard life-cycle model to encompass late-in-life declines in health status, occurring stochastically. We then show how, and why, optimal behavior in the new formulation can include periods of saving after retirement, decumulation of net worth in rapid bursts, and accidental bequests. And, we suggest how these results may explain the patterns that survey data exhibits.

Entry Conditions and the Market Value of Capital
This paper presents a model of aggregative investment. In the model, the business sector expands by adding new establishments. Costs of investment are linear but, in the case of net investment, depend upon the risk of entry failure. We can measure the risk, and time-series variation in it, from micro data. We show that average entry-failure rates are sufficiently high that entry risk alone can explain about one-half of the intangible capital stock of the US. Despite linear costs, we show that our model has potentially interesting dynamic implications.

Intergenerational Transfers in Data from the Health and Retirement Study
We examine 1992-2008 HRS data on inheritances and inter vivos gifts. We uncover a problem with the data: a household's financial respondent often seems to understate transfers from his/her in-laws. Nevertheless, other aspects of the data seem very useful. In particular, we can shift our emphasis to the distribution of inheritances for couples, conditional on a positive transfer from the respondent's in-laws. About 30-40 percent of households eventually inherit. Our analysis suggests that inheritances reflect a mixture of intentional and accidental bequests, with the latter twice as prevalent.

Technological Progress and the Earnings of Older Workers
This paper examines whether the earnings of older US workers track overall increases in TFP as comprehensively as those of their younger colleagues. We find that the pay of older US employees does not follow TFP growth as closely as the remuneration of younger workers -- though the difference is, perhaps, surprisingly small -- and we attempt to provide quantitative assessments of the likely impact on the economy.

Motives for Bequests within the Middle Class
This paper studies the prevalence and nature of middle-class bequests in the US. We use data from the HRS. The literature on private intergenerational transfers distinguishes two general types of bequests on the basis of donors' motives: intentional bequests and accidental bequests. Rather than attempting to test for evidence of one or the other category of bequest, this paper sets up a model including both. Then we turn to the HRS. We approach the data with the perspective that both types of bequests may well be present, and we try to assess their relative importance in practice.