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Measuring the distribution of material well-being: U.S. trends

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  • Pope, Clayne

Abstract

Economists with a few exceptions have automatically assumed that the important measure of well-being is income. In contrast, economic historians have broadened the measure of well-being with particular interest in mortality, morbidity, nutrition, education and leisure. When one takes this broader view of the standard of living, there appears to be a strong trend toward more equality in the distribution of well-being since the industrial revolution. Gini coefficients calculated for the distributions of lifespan and educational attainment have declined dramatically since the mid-nineteenth century for the United States. Mortality and educational differentials have also declined. Inequality of leisure time and consumption, though not as consistently measured, also show trends toward equality over the twentieth century. These trends toward equality in well-being as measured by indicators other than income and wealth seem to be generated by provision of public goods, natural boundaries to lifespan, educational attainment and leisure, and by the growth in mean per capita income. The divergent trends in the distributions of income and the other measures of well-being caution against reliance on the distribution of income to interpret trends in inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Pope, Clayne, 2009. "Measuring the distribution of material well-being: U.S. trends," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 66-78, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:moneco:v:56:y:2009:i:1:p:66-78
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    Cited by:

    1. Kerr, William R., 2014. "Income inequality and social preferences for redistribution and compensation differentials," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 62-78.
    2. Mukesh Sud & Craig VanSandt, 2011. "Of Fair Markets and Distributive Justice," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 99(1), pages 131-142, February.

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