Job Market Paper

1. Unintended Effects of Estate Taxation on Wealth Inequality.

Intergenerational wealth transmission occurs not only at the end of life (bequests) but also throughout the life cycle (inter-vivos transfers). This paper documents that bequests are largely accidental, and inter-vivos transfers are intentional and negatively correlated with the recipient’s current income. This paper builds and estimates a general-equilibrium lifecycle model of intergenerational wealth transfers, where parents potentially value inter-vivos transfers differently from bequests. The model renders a response in inter-vivos transfers to estate tax changes close to the data. Under the current U.S. tax codes, increasing the estate tax does not necessarily reduce top wealth inequality. Instead, it could potentially increase inequality with a sufficiently strong response in inter-vivos transfers. Such a response is partly caused by differential tax treatment between inter-vivos transfers and bequests, and partly amplified by how parents value inter-vivos transfers differently from bequests.


Journal Articles

1. Measuring and Modeling Inter-generational Links in Relation to Long-Term Care, with Andrew Caplin and Kathleen McGarryEconomic Inquiry, forthcoming.

2. Earnings Inequality and Other Determinants of Wealth Inequality, with Jess Benhabib and Alberto Bisin. January 2017. Prepared for the American Economic Review Papers & Proceedings.

Working Papers

1. Wealth Distribution and Social Mobility in the U.S.: A Quantitative Approach, with Jess Benhabib and Alberto Bisin. December 2015. NBER WP #21721. revised and resubmitted to the American Economic Review.

We build and estimate a life-cycle consumption-savings model with three critical factors driving wealth inequality and intergenerational mobility in wealth. The three factors are a skewed income distribution, heterogeneous returns to savings, and differential saving rates in wealth through a bequest motive. All three factors are necessary, but for different reasons.


2. Inter-generational Transfers and Precautionary Savings, with John Ameriks, Joseph BriggsAndrew CaplinMatthew Shapiro, and Chris Tonetti. (one of the Vanguard Research Initiative projects, coming soon!)

We provide new measurement for inter-vivos transfers by surveying Vanguard clients and build a new model of inter-generational transmission of wealth. Parents want to save in order to help with financial need from children through timely inter-vivos transfers. This precautionary savings motive turns out more important than the end-of-life bequest motive in accounting for retirement savings.


3. Student Debt and Job Choice: Wages vs. Job Satisfaction, with Simon Mongey. August 2016.

We use a unique data source on student debts and college graduate labor market behavior to document that more debts lead graduates to initially choose jobs with a higher wage but lower job satisfaction. We highlight the importance of this active trade-off between wage and job satisfaction through modeling and estimating a model of job choice with on-the-job search, student debt, liquid assets and borrowing constraints. Excluding the satisfaction dimension in welfare evaluation would lead to wrong policy implications regarding different debt repayment schemes.


4. Overconfidence and Health Insurance Participation among the Elderly, with Wei Huang. November 2015.

Using national representative samples of the elderly in US and China, we find that people with lower socio-economic status and poorer health are relatively less likely to realize how unhealthy they are and this overconfidence is associated with no insurance participation. Accurate health information provided through physical examinations induces relatively higher participation among the overconfident people afterwards.


Work in Progress

1. The Evolution of Wealth Inequality and Social Mobility in the U.S., with Jess Benhabib and Alberto Bisin.


Policy Reports

1. Consumers’ Use of Overdraft Protection, with Claire Greene. Research Data Report No. 15-8, Boston Fed.



1. Gradualism: An Explanation of Some Chinese Political ContradictionsEast Asia Forum Quarterly 2(3), 2010.

2. Do Village Elections Select Better Qualified Leaders? – Meritocratic Selection in China’s Grassroots Democracy. August 2012.