Inferring Labor Income Risk and Partial Insurance From Economic Choices

Fatih Guvenen, Anthony A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


This paper uses the information contained in the joint dynamics of individuals' labor earnings and consumption-choice decisions to quantify both the amount of income risk that individuals face and the extent to which they have access to informal insurance against this risk. We accomplish this task by using indirect inference to estimate a structural consumption-savings model, in which individuals both learn about the nature of their income process and partly insure shocks via informal mechanisms. In this framework, we estimate (i) the degree of partial insurance, (ii) the extent of systematic differences in income growth rates, (iii) the precision with which individuals know their own income growth rates when they begin their working lives, (iv) the persistence of typical labor income shocks, (v) the tightness of borrowing constraints, and (vi) the amount of measurement error in the data. In implementing indirect inference, we find that an auxiliary model that approximates the true structural equations of the model (which are not estimable) works very well, with negligible small sample bias. The main substantive findings are that income shocks are moderately persistent, systematic differences in income growth rates are large, individuals have substantial amounts of information about their income growth rates, and about one-half of income shocks are smoothed via partial insurance. Putting these findings together, the amount of uninsurable lifetime income risk that individuals perceive is substantially smaller than what is typically assumed in calibrated macroeconomic models with incomplete markets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2085-2129
Number of pages45
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Econometric Society.


  • Heterogeneous income profiles
  • Idiosyncratic shocks
  • Indirect inference estimation
  • Labor income risk
  • Partial insurance
  • Persistence


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