Using harmonized wealth data and a decomposition approach novel to this literature, we identify differences in determinants and in income profiles of asset and debt portfolios in European and North American countries. We find that family structure and income play a significant role in explaining cross-country differences in asset participation for the younger cohort. Large unexplained differences in non-financial asset participation remain for younger households and for debt participation among older households. In more financially developed and economically open countries, households are less likely to own housing, but more likely to be in debt. Our findings could have important implications for policy setting, suggesting a scope for the promotion of asset holdings among younger households and debt holdings to facilitate consumption smoothing among older households.
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