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A Theory of Persistent Income Inequality

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  • Steven N. Durlauf

Abstract

This paper explores the dynamics of income inequality by studying the evolution of human capital investment and neighborhood choice for a population of families. Parents affect the conditional probability distribution of their children's income through the choice of a neighborhood in which to live. Neighborhood location affects children through two mechanisms. First, the level of education depends on the total income of a neighborhood, as all school funding is determined by majority voting. Human capital markets are incomplete as neighborhoods cannot borrow to supplement tax revenues available for education. Second, the conditional probability distribution of individual-specific productivity shocks is affected by the income distribution within a neighborhood. This dependence reflects cultural influences such as the presence in a community of successful role models. These forces interact to endogenously stratify the economy as families segregate themselves into economically homogeneous neighborhoods. Our model has two important features. First, starting from identical initial conditions, families can exhibit different long term income levels, leading to persistent income inequality. Second, areas of permanent poverty can emerge endogenously in a growing economy as neighborhood-wide feedback effects transmit poverty across generations.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4056.

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Date of creation: Apr 1992
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Publication status: published as Journal of Economics Growth, Vol. 1, no. 1 (March 1996): 75-93.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4056

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  1. David Card & Alan Krueger, 1990. "Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Public Schools in the United States," Working Papers 645, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  2. Westhoff, Frank, 1977. "Existence of equilibria in economies with a local public good," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 84-112, February.
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  4. Galor, Oded & Zeira, Joseph, 1988. "Income Distribution and Macroeconomics," MPRA Paper 51644, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 01 Sep 1989.
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  6. Banerjee, Abhijit V & Newman, Andrew F, 1991. "Risk-Bearing and the Theory of Income Distribution," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(2), pages 211-35, April.
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  8. Streufert, Peter, 2000. " The Effect of Underclass Social Isolation on Schooling Choice," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 2(4), pages 461-82.
  9. Mary Jo Bane & David T. Ellwood, 1986. "Slipping into and out of Poverty: The Dynamics of Spells," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 21(1), pages 1-23.
  10. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
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  13. Mary Corcoran & Roger H. Gordon & Deborah Laren & Gary Solon, 1989. "Effects of Family and Community Background on Men's Economic Status," NBER Working Papers 2896, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Durlauf, Steven N, 1993. "Nonergodic Economic Growth," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(2), pages 349-66, April.
  15. Schelling, Thomas C, 1969. "Models of Segregation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(2), pages 488-93, May.
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  18. Glomm, Gerhard & Ravikumar, B, 1992. "Public versus Private Investment in Human Capital Endogenous Growth and Income Inequality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(4), pages 818-34, August.
  19. Datcher, Linda P, 1982. "Effects of Community and Family Background on Achievement," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 64(1), pages 32-41, February.
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