The Household Response to Government Debt. Evidence from Life Insurance Holdings

We use state-level panel data on life insurance in force in the United States and find that a one dollar increase in government debt, at either the state or federal level, is associated with a $0.96 increase in the face value of the average life insurance holdings per capita for a household in the average state. This increase represents an intention to save that would almost completely offset the government debt in specific states of the world (i.e. if the insured dies). Because this state of the world is rare, the immediate increase in actual savings is only about $0.03, the cost of the additional insurance. We find, in addition, that this response occurs mainly on the intensive margin, meaning that the size of the average life insurance policy increases when government debt increases. Along the extensive margin, we find the number of policies in force falls slightly with federal debt, and rises slightly with state debt increases. The results show altruistic planning in response to changes in government debt that are consistent with Ricardian Equivalence and the long-run neutrality of government debt.

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