James Poterba is an economist whose research focuses taxation, financial markets, and household saving. He has studied the influence of tax policies, particularly the retirement saving incentives that underpin 401(k) plans and related programs and tax incentives for investments in owner-occupied housing, on the level and composition of household balance sheets. Poterba was born in New York City in 1958 and grew up in New York and Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1980 with an A.B. in Economics, and in 1983 he received a D.Phil. in Economics from Oxford University, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar. He joined the MIT faculty in 1983, and is currently the Mitsui Professor of Economics. Since 2008, he has served as President of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He has also served as president of the National Tax Association and the Eastern Economic Association, and as Vice-President of the American Economic Association.

Research Interests

James Poterba studies the effect of tax policy on household and firm behavior along with the economics of an aging population. The current tax system encourages households to save through Individual Retirement Accounts, 401 (k) plans, and similar programs. Households would have done some of this saving even in the absence of tax incentives. Poterba has examined the degree of crowd-out between contributions to retirement saving accounts and other saving. He has also studied the tax incentives that affect homeowners, and estimated how these tax provisions affect the demand for housing and the price of land and structures. He is also studying the process by which households draw-down retirement saving in late life, with particular emphasis on the role of health shocks and changes in family status such as death of a spouse. At a more macroeconomic level, he has studied the links between population age structure and the returns on various financial assets, with the goal of understanding how the aging of the Baby Boom in the United States may alter expected returns and thus influence retirement saving adequacy.

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Primary Section

Section 54: Economic Sciences