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The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective

Author

Listed:
  • Thomas Piketty
  • Emmanuel Saez

Abstract

This paper summarizes the main findings of the recent studies that have constructed top income and wealth shares series over the century for a number of countries using tax statistics. Most countries experience a dramatic drop in top income shares in the first part of the century due to a precipitous drop in large wealth holdings during the wars and depression shocks. Top income shares do not recover in the immediate post war decades. However, over the last 30 years, top income shares have increased substantially in English speaking countries but not at all in continental Europe countries or Japan. This increase is due to an unprecedented surge in top wage incomes starting in the 1970s and accelerating in the 1990s. As a result, top wage earners have replaced capital income earners at the top of the income distribution in English speaking countries. We discuss the proposed explanations and the main questions that remain open.
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Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 200-205, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:96:y:2006:i:2:p:200-205
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/000282806777212116
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/000282806777212116
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Savings," NBER Chapters,in: Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings, pages 171-218 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2005. "Where did the Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," CEPR Discussion Papers 5419, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Dell, Fabien & Piketty, Thomas & Saez, Emmanuel, 2005. "Income and Wealth Concentration in Switzerland Over the 20th Century," CEPR Discussion Papers 5090, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn53-1, July.
    5. Emmanuel Saez & Michael R. Veall, 2005. "The Evolution of High Incomes in Northern America: Lessons from Canadian Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 831-849, June.
    6. Ian Dew-Becker & Robert J. Gordon, 2005. "Where Did Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 36(2), pages 67-150.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs

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