This paper uses household wealth surveys to compare patterns of intergenerational wealth transfers across six rich countries and assess the relationships between transfers, current levels of net wealth, and wealth inequality. The paper examines four Euro Area countries, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain and extends the systematic comparison to the US and the UK. It finds that many of those currently at the top of the wealth distribution did not benefit from intergenerational transfers, but those who did received particularly large amounts while those toward the bottom of the wealth distribution received very little. A substantial gap in net wealth is seen between those who received or did not receive some wealth transfer. Controlling for age, gender, education and household size reduces the size of that gap but it remains substantial, especially in the US. We further look at how a marginal increase in the proportion of recipients of transfers of differing sizes would contribute to the shape of the overall wealth distribution using influence function regressions. Crucially, we show that the impact depends not only on the locations in the wealth distributions of recipients versus non-recipients, but also on the size of the receipt, an aspect which has been overlooked to date. In most countries, increasing the proportion of recipients of large transfers generally increases overall wealth inequality. In contrast, having more recipients of small or medium-sized transfers would be expected to reduce wealth inequality modestly, as they are more concentrated around the middle of the wealth distribution than non-recipients.
Nolan, B., Palomino, J., Van Kerm, P., Morelli, S. (2020). Intergenerational Transfers by Size and Wealth Inequality in Rich Countries. In CSEF WORKING PAPER Series.