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New Evidence on Altruism: A Study of TIAA-CREF Retirees

Discussion Paper 86 | Published May 1, 1993

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New Evidence on Altruism: A Study of TIAA-CREF Retirees


Economists make extensive use of two separate descriptions of private saving behavior: the life-cycle (or overlapping generations) model, and models with intergenerational altruism. Analysis of the two frameworks is quite different, as are many of the long-run policy implications. This paper looks at evidence, at the microeconomic level, for and against altruism as a principal determinant of private wealth holdings. The database is new: this paper uses a sample of annuitants in the TIAA-CREF retirement system. We employ a combination of qualitative and quantitative information. Results are: (i) one-half or more of the sample appears altruistically motivated. And (ii) saving for intentional bequests—amounting to about $350,000–$400,000 per family (at retirement) for about half the sample—seems to account for about 25 percent of average lifetime net worth for the whole group. If the definition of parental transfers is broadened to include spending on higher education for children and gifts (rather than just estates), the contribution of intentional transfers to lifetime average net worth climbs to 35–40 percent—in our sample.