Life Cycle Models, Heterogeneity of Initial Assets,and Wealth Inequality
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Life cycle general equilibrium models with heterogeneous agents have a very hard time reproducing the American wealth distribution. A common assumption made in this literature is that all young adults enter the economy with no initial assets. In this article, we relax this assumption – not supported by the data - and evaluate the ability of an otherwise standard life cycle model to account for the U.S. wealth inequality. The new feature of the model is that agents enter the economy with assets drawn from an initial distribution of assets, which is estimated using a non-parametric method applied to data from the Survey of Consumer Finances. We found that heterogeneity with respect to initial wealth is key for this class of models to replicate the data. According to our results, American inequality can be explained almost entirely by the fact that some individuals are lucky enough to be born into wealth, while others are born with few or no assets.