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Earnings volatility in America: Evidence from matched CPS


  • Ziliak, James P.
  • Hardy, Bradley
  • Bollinger, Christopher


We offer new evidence on earnings volatility of men and women in the United States over the past four decades by using matched data from the March Current Population Survey. We construct a measure of total volatility that encompasses both permanent and transitory instability, and that admits employment transitions and losses from self employment. We also present a detailed decomposition of earnings volatility to account for changing shares in employment probabilities, conditional variances of continuous workers, and conditional mean variances from employment entry and exit. Our results show that earnings volatility among men increased by 15% from the early 1970s to mid 1980s, while women's volatility fell, and each stabilized thereafter. However, this pooled series masks important heterogeneity in volatility levels and trends across education groups and marital status. We find that men's earnings volatility is increasingly accounted for by employment transitions, especially exits, while the share of women's volatility accounted for by continuous workers rose, each of which highlights the importance of allowing for periods of non-work in volatility studies.

Suggested Citation

  • Ziliak, James P. & Hardy, Bradley & Bollinger, Christopher, 2011. "Earnings volatility in America: Evidence from matched CPS," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 742-754.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:18:y:2011:i:6:p:742-754
    DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2011.06.015

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kyong Hyun Koo, 2016. "The Evolution of Earnings Volatility During and After the Great Recession," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(4), pages 705-732, October.
    2. Aedín Doris & Donal O’Neill & Olive Sweetman, 2015. "Wage flexibility and the great recession: the response of the Irish labour market," IZA Journal of European Labor Studies, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 4(1), pages 1-24, December.
    3. Bradley Hardy & James P. Ziliak, 2014. "Decomposing Trends In Income Volatility: The “Wild Ride” At The Top And Bottom," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 52(1), pages 459-476, January.
    4. Markus Jäntti & Stephen P. Jenkins, 2013. "Income Mobility," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 607, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    5. Drydakis, Nick, 2015. "Brain Types and Wages," IZA Discussion Papers 9426, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Anindo Sarker & Bulent Unel, 2017. "The Impact of Bank Expansion on Self-Employed Business Owners: Evidence from US States," Departmental Working Papers 2017-06, Department of Economics, Louisiana State University.
    7. Otto Kässi, 2014. "Earnings dynamics of men and women in Finland: permanent inequality versus earnings instability," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 46(2), pages 451-477, March.
    8. repec:bla:jconsa:v:51:y:2017:i:3:p:519-548 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:bla:manchs:v:85:y:2017:i:2:p:183-211 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:bla:coecpo:v:35:y:2017:i:2:p:312-330 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Ludwig, Johannes, 2015. "The role of education and household composition for transitory and permanent income inequality–evidence from PSID data," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 129-146.
    12. Cappellari, Lorenzo & Jenkins, Stephen P., 2014. "Earnings and labour market volatility in Britain, with a transatlantic comparison," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 201-211.
    13. Dynan Karen & Elmendorf Douglas & Sichel Daniel, 2012. "The Evolution of Household Income Volatility," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 1-42, December.
    14. Louis Chauvel & Anne Hartung & Flaviana Palmisano, 2017. "Dynamics of Income Rank Volatility: Evidence from Germany and the US," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 926, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    15. Key, Nigel & Prager, Daniel & Burns, Christopher, 2015. "Household Income Volatility in U.S. Farm Households," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205407, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association;Western Agricultural Economics Association.


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