Do Estate Taxes Reduce Saving?

Maria Perozek and William G. Gale
William G. Gale The Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy, Senior Fellow - Economic Studies, Co-Director - Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

November 11, 2000


This paper examines the impact of estate taxes on saving in a series of models that posit different motivations for transfers between parents and children. We show that the effects of the tax on saving depend on why donors give bequests. In addition, under each motive examined—bequests as accidents, as exchange, and as altruism—estate taxes can raise net saving by the donor and recipient. Recycling the tax revenue to the donor generally reduces the impact of estate taxes on saving, but still leaves open the possibility that the net saving effect is positive. Because there is no consensus on the correct model of intergenerational transfers, it is impossible to pin down the effect of estate taxation on saving. Nevertheless, our analysis indicates that the widely-held presumption that estate taxes reduce saving is not a general result.