The Wealthy Hand-to-Mouth
71 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2014 Last revised: 8 May 2022
Date Written: April 2014
The wealthy hand-to-mouth are households who hold little or no liquid wealth (cash, checking, and savings accounts), despite owning sizable amounts of illiquid assets (assets that carry a transaction cost, such as housing or retirement accounts). We use survey data on household portfolios for the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain to document the share of such households across countries, their demographic characteristics, the composition of their balance sheets, and the persistence of hand-to-mouth status over the life cycle. The portfolio configuration of the wealthy hand-to-mouth suggests that these households may have a high marginal propensity to consume out of transitory income changes, a prediction for which we find empirical support in PSID data. We explain the implications of this group of consumers for macroeconomic modeling and fiscal policy analysis.
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