Knowing When to Splurge: Precautionary Saving and Chinese-Canadians
Posted: 26 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 24, 2019
Why do household saving rates differ so much across countries? This micro-level question has global implications: countries that systematically “oversave” export capital by running current account surpluses. In the recipient countries, interest rates are thus too low and financial stability is put at risk. Existing theories argue that saving is precautionary, but tests are limited to cross-country comparisons and are not always supportive. We report the findings of an original survey experiment. Using a simulated financial saving task implemented online, we compare the saving preferences of a large and diverse sample of Chinese-Canadians with other Canadians. This comparison is instructive given that Chinese-Canadians migrated from, or descend from those who migrated from, a high-saving environment to a low-savings, high-debt environment. We also compare behavior in the presence and absence of a simulated “welfare state”, which we represent in the form of mandatory insurance. Our respondents exhibit behavior in the saving task that corresponds to standard economic assumptions about lifecycle savings and risk aversion. We find strong evidence that precautionary saving is reduced when a mandatory insurance is present, but no support that Chinese cultural influences – represented in linguistic or ethnic terms – have any effect on saving behavior.
JEL Classification: D14, D15, G14
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