Skewed wealth distributions: Theory and empirics
Jess Benhabib, Professor of Economics, New York University
Alberto Bisin, Professor of Economics, New York University
Invariably across a cross-section of countries and time periods, wealth distributions are skewed to the right displaying thick upper tails, that is, large and slowly declining top wealth shares. In this survey we categorize the theoretical studies on the distribution of wealth in terms of the underlying economic mechanisms generating skewness and thick tails. Further, we show how these mechanisms can be micro-founded by the consumption-saving decisions of rational agents in specific economic and demographic environments. Finally we map the large empirical work on the wealth distribution to its theoretical underpinnings.