February 1996

Precautionary Portfolio Behavior from a Life-Cycle Perspective

Carol C. Bertaut and Michael Haliassos


The literature on asset accumulation by households draws a sharp distinction between "short-run" precautionary motives to buffer annual consumption from annual labor income shocks, and "long-run" life cycle considerations under labor income certainty. However, empirical estimates of the persistence of shocks to annual incomes imply that households are subject to considerable career uncertainty. We study long-run precautionary motives for life-cycle wealth accumulation and portfolio choice. We compute optimal portfolios under three sources of uncertainty (stock returns, incomes, and lifespan), and explore the separate contributions of several key factors for mean and median asset holdings, including education, risk aversion, household heterogeneity, utility from bequests, time preference, and variance and serial correlation of income shocks. Numerical solutions for households in three education groups are compared with data from the most recent and comprehensive source, the 1992 Survey of Consumer Finances.

PDF: Full Paper

Disclaimer: The economic research that is linked from this page represents the views of the authors and does not indicate concurrence either by other members of the Board's staff or by the Board of Governors. The economic research and their conclusions are often preliminary and are circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment. The Board values having a staff that conducts research on a wide range of economic topics and that explores a diverse array of perspectives on those topics. The resulting conversations in academia, the economic policy community, and the broader public are important to sharpening our collective thinking.

Back to Top
Last Update: February 19, 2021