Intergenerational Transfers, Borrowing Constraints, and Saving Behavior: Evidence from the Housing Market Intergenerational Transfers, Borrowing Constraints, and Saving Behavior: Evidence from the Housing Market

By Gary V. Engelhardt and Christopher J. Mayer

This paper examines the effects of intergenerational transfers on saving behavior by examining private wealth transfers targeted toward first-time home purchases. The study of transfer behavior in the housing market is advantageous for a number of reasons: the down payment requirement associated with home purchase can be thought of as an important, well-defined borrowing constraint that most U.S. households face; private wealth transfers targeted to home purchases are significant; and home equity is a highly important component of household wealth in the United States. The empirical analysis shows that transfer recipients have a saving rate that is lower than that of non-recipients by as much as 6 percentage points, representing a reduction of 39 to 49 percent in the household saving rate. In addition, households that receive transfers reduce the time required to save for the down payment by 22 percent. For each dollar of transfer received, households increase the dollar amount of the down payment by about 85 cents, allowing them to achieve a higher down payment threshold. Households also increase the value of the home purchased upon receiving a transfer, but by an amount that is much lower than would be possible if the transfer were fully leveraged. The amount of the transfer appears to be targeted to help households achieve certain down payment thresholds that give favorable terms on mortgages. Although the evidence suggests that the availability of a transfer reduces household savings, we cannot reject the alternative hypothesis that transfer recipients are inherently low savers.