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How Do Households Respond to Income Shocks?

Staff Report 655 | Published December 5, 2023

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Dirk Krueger Visiting Scholar, Institute
Egor Malkov Bates White
Fabrizio Perri Assistant Director and Monetary Advisor
How Do Households Respond to Income Shocks?


We use panel data from the Italian Survey of Household Income and Wealth from 1991 to 2016 to document empirically what components of the household budget constraint change in response to shocks to household labor income, both over shorter and over longer horizons. We show that shocks to labor income are associated with negligible changes in transfers and non-labor income components, modest changes in consumption expenditures, and large changes in wealth. We then split the sample in households which do not own business or real estate wealth, and households who do. For the first group, we find that consumption responses are more substantial (and increasing with the horizon of the income shock) and wealth responses are much smaller. We show that, for this group, a version of the standard PIH framework that allows for partial insurance against even permanent income shocks can explain well the consumption and wealth responses, both at short and long horizons. For the second group the standard framework cannot explain the large changes in wealth associated with income shocks. We conclude that models which include shocks to the value of household wealth are necessary to fully evaluate the sources and the consequences of household resource risk.