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The changing fortunes of American families in the 1980s

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  • Katharine L. Bradbury

Abstract

After the recessions of 1980 and 1981-82, family income in the United States expanded through most of the 1980s. The decade brought gains in living standards to most families, but these gains were not distributed evenly; the rich grew richer but the poor grew poorer. This article examines shifts in the sources of family income and family work patterns between 1979 and 1988 in order to address the question: Why were the periods income gains so unevenly distributed? ; The first section describes the changes that occurred in the distribution of family income in the 1980s, and discusses some hypotheses about the sources of such changes. Part II examines sources of family income, focusing on growing inequality in the distribution of earned income. Earnings grew faster for families with high incomes than for those with low incomes because changing patterns of labor force participation reinforced growing inequality in both mens and womens wages. The author finds that families with limited access to the labor market--the young, the unemployed, the less educated--were left behind in the earnings-driven income growth of the 1980s.

Suggested Citation

  • Katharine L. Bradbury, 1990. "The changing fortunes of American families in the 1980s," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Jul, pages 25-40.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbne:y:1990:i:jul:p:25-40
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    File URL: http://www.bostonfed.org/economic/neer/neer1990/neer490b.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kim B. Clark & Lawrence H. Summers, 1979. "Labor Market Dynamics and Unemployemnt: A Reconsideration," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 10(1), pages 13-72.
    2. Katharine L. Bradbury, 1986. "The shrinking middle class," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Sep, pages 41-55.
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    1. Levernier, William & Partridge, Mark D. & Rickman, Dan S., 1998. "Metropolitan-Nonmetropolitan Distinctions in the Determinants of Family Income Inequality," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 28(3), pages 85-106, Winter.
    2. Cristiano Perugini & Gaetano Martino, 2008. "Income Inequality Within European Regions: Determinants And Effects On Growth," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 54(3), pages 373-406, September.
    3. Christopher J. Mayer, 1993. "Taxes, income distribution, and the real estate cycle: why all houses do not appreciate at the same rate," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue May, pages 39-50.
    4. William B. Levernier, 1996. "The Role Of Region-Specific Institutionalized Cultural Characteristics On Income Inequality In The American South: The Case Of Georgia'S Plantation Belt," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 26(3), pages 301-316, Winter.
    5. Donald Williams, 1991. "Structural Change and the Aggregate Poverty Rate," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 28(2), pages 323-332, May.
    6. Partridge, Mark D. & Rickman, Dan S. & Levernier, William, 1996. "Trends in U.S. income inequality: Evidence from a panel of states," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 17-37.
    7. Jamie S. Partridge & Mark D. Partridge & Dan S. Rickman, 1998. "State Patterns In Family Income Inequality," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 16(3), pages 277-294, July.
    8. Levernier, William & Partridge, Mark D. & Rickman, Dan S., 1998. "Differences in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan U.S. Family Income Inequality: A Cross-County Comparison," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 272-290, September.

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    Keywords

    Income distribution; Consumer behavior;

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