Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 309–346 | Cite as

The intra-family division of bequests and bequest motives: empirical evidence from a survey on Japanese households

  • Junya HamaakiEmail author
  • Masahiro Hori
  • Keiko Murata
Original Paper


The division of bequests among family members differs sharply between Japan and the USA. Whereas in the USA, bequests tend to be divided equally among decedents’ children, they tend to be divided unequally in Japan. We start by arguing that certain legal and institutional aspects, which are not present in Japan, lead to equal bequests in the USA. We then investigate unequal patterns of bequest division in Japan to understand parental bequest motives. Utilizing institutional characteristics that are specific to Japan allows us to examine parental motives. We find that while the patterns of bequest division look generally consistent with most of the parental bequest motives suggested in the literature, such as the dynastic and the strategic motive, parents do not necessarily bequeath more to economically disadvantaged children.


Bequests Dynastic motive Altruism Strategic motive Japan 

JEL classification

D13 D31 D64 



This paper forms part of the authors’ microdata-based research on household consumption in Japan at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). We thank two anonymous referees and the responsible editor, Alessandro Cigno, for their useful comments and suggestions. We are also grateful to Charles Yuji Horioka, Misuzu Azuma, Mizuki Nakama, and Shigeki Kunieda for their helpful comments on the earlier draft of this paper. We thank Koichiro Iwamoto, Takeshi Niizeki, Fumihiko Suga, and other ESRI colleagues for their comments and support. A special thanks goes to Mariko Nishimura for her kind advice on inheritance-related matters in the USA and to Ralph Paprzycki for his excellent English editing service. The views expressed in this paper are personal and do not represent those of any of the institutions with which we are affiliated.


This study was funded by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers 16K17136 (Hamaaki) and 15K03398 (Murata).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet OfficeChiyoda-kuJapan
  2. 2.Faculty of EconomicsHosei UniversityMachida CityJapan
  3. 3.Asian Public Policy Program, School of International and Public PolicyHitotsubashi UniversityChiyoda-kuJapan
  4. 4.Graduate School of ManagementTokyo Metropolitan UniversityHachioji CityJapan

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