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http://ssrn.com/abstract=1149335
 
 

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What Good is Wealth Without Health? The Effect of Health on the Marginal Utility of Consumption


Amy Finkelstein


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Erzo F. P. Luttmer


Dartmouth College; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Matthew Notowidigdo


University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

June 2008

NBER Working Paper No. w14089

Abstract:     
We estimate how the marginal utility of consumption varies with health. To do so, we develop a simple model in which the impact of health on the marginal utility of consumption can be estimated from data on permanent income, health, and utility proxies. We estimate the model using the Health and Retirement Study’s panel data on the elderly and near-elderly, and proxy for utility with measures of subjective well-being. We find robust evidence that the marginal utility of consumption declines as health deteriorates. Our central estimate is that a one-standard deviation increase in the number of chronic diseases is associated with an 11 percent decline in the marginal utility of consumption relative to this marginal utility when the individual has no chronic diseases. The 95 percent confidence interval allows us to reject declines in marginal utility of less than 2 percent or more than 17 percent. Point estimates from a wide range of alternative specifications tend to lie within this confidence interval. We present some simple, illustrative calibration results that suggest that state dependence of the magnitude we estimate can have a substantial effect on important economic problems such as the optimal level of health insurance benefits and the optimal level of life-cycle savings.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 59

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Date posted: June 22, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Finkelstein, Amy and Luttmer, Erzo F. P. and Notowidigdo, Matthew, What Good is Wealth Without Health? The Effect of Health on the Marginal Utility of Consumption (June 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w14089. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1149335

Contact Information

Amy Finkelstein (Contact Author)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )
50 Memorial Drive
E52-391
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-588-0361 (Phone)
617-868-7242 (Fax)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Erzo F.P. Luttmer
Dartmouth College ( email )
Hanover, NH 03755
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)
P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany
Matthew Notowidigdo
University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )
5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
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