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Trends in the Level and Distribution of U.S. Living Standards: 1973-1993


  • Gary Burtless

    (Brookings Institution)


Various measures of the improvement in U.S. living standards provide contrasting pictures of the pace of overall economic progress. Per capita consumption rose 37 percent from 1973 to 1993, but median family income was unchanged. This paper accounts for the striking divergence between these alternative measures. Average consumption rose faster than median cash income because saving fell, consumption financed from noncash income sources rose, family size shrank, and income inequality climbed sharply. The paper documents the importance of rising wage inequality and the surprising increase in the correlation between husband and wife earnings in the trend toward greater family income inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary Burtless, 1996. "Trends in the Level and Distribution of U.S. Living Standards: 1973-1993," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 22(3), pages 271-290, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:eej:eeconj:v:22:y:1996:i:3:p:271-290

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    1. Wendy Naysnerski & Tom Tietenberg, 1992. "Private Enforcement of Federal Environmental Law," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 68(1), pages 28-48.
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    3. Schwert, G William, 1981. "Using Financial Data to Measure Effects of Regulation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(1), pages 121-158, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Timothy Smeeding & Karen Christopher & Paula England & Sara McLanahan & Katherin Ross Phillips, 1999. "Poverty and Parenthood across Modern Nations: Findings from the Luxembourg Income Study," LIS Working papers 194, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    2. Mellander, Charlotta & Stolarick, Kevin & Lobo, José, 2014. "Distinguishing Neighborhood and Workplace Effects on Individual Productivity: Evidence from Sweden," Working Paper Series in Economics and Institutions of Innovation 386, Royal Institute of Technology, CESIS - Centre of Excellence for Science and Innovation Studies.
    3. Barry Bluestone & Teresa Ghilarducci, "undated". "Making Work Pay, Wage Insurance for the Working Poor," Economics Public Policy Brief Archive ppb_28, Levy Economics Institute.
    4. Maria Cancian & Deborah Reed, 1999. "The impact of wives’ earnings on income inequality: Issues and estimates," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 36(2), pages 173-184, May.
    5. Burtless, Gary, 1997. "The progress and distribution of U.S. living standards, 1959-1995," The North American Journal of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 111-133.
    6. Steven Pressman, 2006. "The Decline of the Middle Class: An International Perspective," LIS Working papers 280, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.

    More about this item


    Distribution; Income; Inequality; Living Standards;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution


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