Cohorts and wealth transfers: Generational changes in the receipt of
inheritances, trusts, and inter vivos gifts in the United States
The intergenerational transfer of assets helps create and maintain wealth inequality over time, and cohort differences in these wealth transfers provide unique insights into the changing mechanisms that lead to inequality. We examine cohort differences in asset transfers in two ways. First, we explore whether there are general cohort differences. Second, we examine how transfers have changed across four specific U.S. birth cohorts. We draw on ideas from research on cohort succession processes to document differences across cohorts in financial resources, and we draw on work on bequest behavior to address how resource differences might lead to cohort differences in transfers. Using the Survey of Consumer Finances, we find that members of younger cohorts are less likely than members of older cohorts to receive any transfer but that younger recipients receive larger transfers. We also find that members of younger cohorts are less likely to receive inheritances and trusts, more likely to receive inter vivos gifts, and less likely to inherit at any age than members of older cohorts. Our findings underscore the importance of birth cohorts in studies of inequality and suggest that wealth inequality may worsen over time given that a smaller number of people are receiving large transfers.