Essays in Household Savings and Portfolio Choice

TitleEssays in Household Savings and Portfolio Choice
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsDal Borgo, M
DegreePh. D.
UniversityUniversity of Warwick
CityCoventry, UK
Thesis TypePh. D.
KeywordsNet Worth and Asset, Net Worth and Assets, Risk Taking, Social Security, Women and Minorities

The first part of this thesis presents a decomposition of household savings. One of the explanations for the wealth gap is that households with the same income level and demographic characteristics present differences in saving rates. This issue has been studied for African American versus Whites, but has not been directly addressed for Hispanics. Using pre-retirement data from the Health and Retirement Study, I compute saving rates as the ratio of wealth change to income over the years 1992-1998 and 1998-2004. In a regression framework I find that Mexican Americans, but not other Hispanics, have lower saving rates than Whites, even after controlling for income and socio-demographic factors. The inclusion of Social Security (S.S.) and pension wealth widens the gap further, which reflects the lack of pensions' coverage among Mexican Americans. In contrast, the difference between African Americans and Whites is only significant when retirement assets are not added to total wealth, consistent with the equalizing effect of S.S.. Then I conduct a regression decomposition for the mean gap in saving rates and find that: i) the component of the Mexican American-White differential not explained by observable characteristics becomes significant when S.S. and pensions are included; ii) with or without retirement assets the unexplained racial gap disappears; and iii) income and education are the main predictors of the savings gaps. The second and third parts investigate the effect of bankruptcy protection on households' portfolio choice. The debtor protection provided by the U.S. personal bankruptcy law reduces exposure to uninsurable risks: it allows defaulters to discharge unsecured debt and to protect a certain amount of home equity. A reduction in background risk - for example, resulting from labor or entrepreneurial income - can affect the demand for risky financial assets. Thus, the bankruptcy protection can affect ex ante households' willingness to tilt the financial portfolio towards those assets. On the one hand the implicit consumption insurance may lead to higher risk-taking by increasing the consumption floor if there is a negative wealth shock ("risk-taking channel"). On the other hand, more generous bankruptcy provisions will lead to a reduction in the demand for stock via: i) a higher probability of bankruptcy, since stocks are lost in bankruptcy because they are not protected ("protection channel"); or ii) worse credit market conditions -less access to credit at a higher price-, since higher bankruptcy protection implies a reduction of the collateral ("credit market channel"). In the context of a portfolio choice model, in the second chapter I illustrate how the bankruptcy protection can affect risk-taking through the "risk-taking channel" and the "protection channel". In the third part, I examine empirically the relationship between bankruptcy protection and stock market participation by exploiting the variation in that protection across states and over time. I find that doubling the amount of home equity that can be protected reduces stock ownership by 2 p.p. at intermediate protection levels ($22,000 to $90,000). This decline is restricted to high-asset and high-income households, which are more likely to participate in the stock market. Since poor rather than rich households are affected by worse credit market conditions when bankruptcy becomes more generous, the "credit market channel" is not a plausible mechanism. I do not find any effect of higher protection on the share of stocks in liquid assets, which suggests that the bankruptcy protection does not affect households' risk appetite. My findings are consistent with unprotected rather than risky assets becoming less attractive as the level of protection increases, as predicted by the "protection channel".

Endnote Keywords

Portfolio Choice

Short TitleEssays in Household Savings and Portfolio Choice
Citation Key6272