The Influence of Housing and Durables on Personal Saving

by Richard W. Kopcke, Alicia H. Munnell, and Leah M. Cook
November/December 1991

The rate of national saving declined sharply in the 1980s. Some of the explanations for this puzzling performance have considered the influence of capital gains, a reduction in the need for precautionary saving, a decline in the need for retirement saving, the effect of slower income growth, and a host of other factors.

This article explores the relationship between personal saving and the treatment of owner-occupied housing and consumer durable goods in the national income and product accounts. It examhaes the potential consequences of understating the returns on owner-occupied houses and overstating the consumption of services of durable goods. The article concludes that the greater value of homeowners’ investment in their residences after the 1970s and, to a lesser extent, rising outlays for consumer durable goods in the 1980s, depressed reported personal saving during the last decade, as the national accounts underestimated income and overestimated consumption.

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