Staff Report 485

Inferring Labor Income Risk and Partial Insurance from Economic Choices

Fatih Guvenen | Consultant
Anthony Smith

Published June 19, 2013

This paper uses the information contained in the joint dynamics of individuals’ labor earnings and consumption-choice decisions to quantify both the amount of income risk that individuals face and the extent to which they have access to informal insurance against this risk. We accomplish this task by using indirect inference to estimate a structural consumption-savings model, in which individuals both learn about the nature of their income process and partly insure shocks via informal mechanisms. In this framework, we estimate (i) the degree of partial insurance, (ii) the extent of systematic differences in income growth rates, (iii) the precision with which individuals know their own income growth rates when they begin their working lives, (iv) the persistence of typical labor income shocks, (v) the tightness of borrowing constraints, and (vi) the amount of measurement error in the data. In implementing indirect inference, we find that an auxiliary model that approximates the true structural equations of the model (which are not estimable) works very well, with negligible small sample bias. The main substantive findings are that income shocks are not very persistent, systematic differences in income growth rates are large, individuals have substantial amounts of information about their income growth rates, and about one-half of income shocks are effectively smoothed via partial insurance. Putting these findings together, we argue that the amount of uninsurable lifetime income risk that individuals perceive is substantially smaller than what is typically assumed in calibrated macroeconomic models with incomplete markets.

Published In: Econometrica (Vol. 82, No. 6, June 2014, pp. 2085-2129)

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