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Inequality in current and lifetime income

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Abstract

Standard theory of intertemporal choice predicts that people smooth out life-cycle changes in income by borrowing and saving, such that their standard of living in any given year depends more on lifetime income than on that year’s income. Yet, contemporary empirical studies of income inequality are typically based on observations of income for one or a few years. This empirical simplification is due to the simple fact that researchers seldom have access to data on long-run or lifetime income. In this paper, we exploit a unique data set with nearly career-long income histories to provide novel evidence on inequality in current and lifetime income. We apply these results to assess the role of so-called life-cycle bias in empirical analysis of income inequality that uses current income variables as proxies for lifetime income. Our results suggest that income inequality increases over the working lifespan, and inequality in current income at age 60 is more than twice the inequality in lifetime income. Another key finding is that inequality in lifetime income is much lower than what cross-sectional estimates of inequality suggest. This means that we may need to reconsider how unequal individuals’ living standard actually is.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Research Department of Statistics Norway in its series Discussion Papers with number 726.

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Date of creation: Dec 2012
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Handle: RePEc:ssb:dispap:726

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Keywords: Income inequality; lifetime income; current income; life-cycle;

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  1. Anders Bohlmark & Matthew J. Lindquist, 2006. "Life-Cycle Variations in the Association between Current and Lifetime Income: Replication and Extension for Sweden," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(4), pages 879-900, October.
  2. Steven Haider & Gary Solon, 2006. "Life-Cycle Variation in the Association between Current and Lifetime Earnings," NBER Working Papers 11943, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Richard V. Burkhauser & John G. Poupore, 1997. "A Cross-National Comparison Of Permanent Inequality In The United States And Germany," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(1), pages 10-17, February.
  4. Milton Friedman, 1957. "A Theory of the Consumption Function," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie57-1, July.
  5. Manudeep Bhuller & Magne Mogstad & Kjell G.Salvanes, 2011. "Life-cycle bias and the returns to schooling in current and lifetime earnings," Discussion Papers 666, Research Department of Statistics Norway.
  6. Shorrocks, Anthony, 1978. "Income inequality and income mobility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 376-393, December.
  7. Jan Brenner, 2009. "Life-Cycle Variations in the Association between Current and Lifetime Earnings – Evidence for German Natives and Guest Workers," Ruhr Economic Papers 0095, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
  8. Rolf Aaberge, 2006. "Gini’s Nuclear Family," Discussion Papers 491, Research Department of Statistics Norway.
  9. Stephen P. Jenkins & Philippe VanKerm, 2003. "Trends in Income Inequality, Pro-Poor Income Growth and Income Mobility," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 377, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  10. Rolf Aaberge & Anders Björklund & Markus Jäntti & Mårten Palme & Peder J. Pedersen & Nina Smith & Tom Wennemo, 1996. "Income Inequality and Income Mobility in the Scandinavian Countries Compared to the United States," Discussion Papers 168, Research Department of Statistics Norway.
  11. Jacob Mincer, 1958. "Investment in Human Capital and Personal Income Distribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 281.
  12. Øivind Anti Nilsen & Kjell Vaage & Arild Aakvik & Karl Jacobsen, 2012. "Intergenerational Earnings Mobility Revisited: Estimates Based on Lifetime Earnings," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 114(1), pages 1-23, 03.
  13. Milton Friedman, 1957. "Introduction to "A Theory of the Consumption Function"," NBER Chapters, in: A Theory of the Consumption Function, pages 1-6 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Marx, Ive & Nolan, Brian & Olivera, Javier, 2014. "The Welfare State and Anti-Poverty Policy in Rich Countries," IZA Discussion Papers 8154, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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