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On the evolution of income inequality in the United States

Listed author(s):
  • Kevin A. Bryan
  • Leonardo Martinez

This article discusses the evolution of income inequality in the United States. We focus mainly on the evolution of inequality since the 1960s because more data are available for this period than for earlier periods. We document that income inequality rose in the United States during the period under study. Furthermore, our article documents periods characterized by a decline in real income for lower income groups. We show that the increase in inequality is concentrated among individuals with higher income and we explain that welfare inequality may have increased less than income inequality (and, in fact, may actually have decreased). In addition, this article summarizes the findings of studies on inequality trends between the 1820s and the 1960s. We show that the recent period of increasing inequality followed a period of decreasing inequality since World War I, which in turn followed a period of increasing inequality in the 19th century.

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File URL: http://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/economic_quarterly/2008/spring/pdf/bryan_martinez.pdf
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Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in its journal Economic Quarterly.

Volume (Year): (2008)
Issue (Month): Spr ()
Pages: 97-120

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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedreq:y:2008:i:spr:p:97-120:n:v.94no.2
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  1. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Postsecondary Education and Increasing Wage Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 195-199, May.
  2. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1999. "Changing Inequality in Markets for Workplace Amenities," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(4), pages 1085-1123.
  3. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2007. "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(3), pages 969-1006.
  4. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34.
  5. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez, 2004. "Top Wealth Shares in the United States: 1916-2000: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 10399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Dirk Krueger & Fabrizio Perri, 2006. "Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality? Evidence and Theory -super-1," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(1), pages 163-193.
  7. Robert A. Margo, 1999. "The History of Wage Inequality in America, 1820 to 1970," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_286, Levy Economics Institute.
  8. Brooks Pierce, 2001. "Compensation Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1493-1525.
  9. Zvi Eckstein & Éva Nagypál, 2004. "The evolution of U.S. earnings inequality: 1961?2002," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Dec, pages 10-29.
  10. Williamson, Jeffrey G, 2006. "Inequality and Schooling Responses to Globalization Forces: Lessons from History," CEPR Discussion Papers 5892, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. Santiago Budria Rodriguez & Javier Diaz-Gimenez & Vincenzo Quadrini & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2002. "Updated facts on the U.S. distributions of earnings, income, and wealth," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Sum, pages 2-35.
  12. Ana Castaneda & Javier Diaz-Gimenez & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2003. "Accounting for the U.S. Earnings and Wealth Inequality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(4), pages 818-857, August.
  13. Richard Blundell & Luigi Pistaferri & Ian Preston, 2004. "Consumption inequality and partial insurance," IFS Working Papers W04/28, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  14. Robert A. Margo, 2000. "Wages and Labor Markets in the United States, 1820-1860," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number marg00-1, September.
  15. David S. Lee, 1999. "Wage Inequality in the United States During the 1980s: Rising Dispersion or Falling Minimum Wage?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 977-1023.
  16. Orazio Attanasio & Erich Battistin & Hidehiko Ichimura, 2004. "What Really Happened to Consumption Inequality in the US?," NBER Working Papers 10338, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez & Jae Song, 2007. "Uncovering the American Dream: Inequality and Mobility in Social Security Earnings Data since 1937," NBER Working Papers 13345, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," NBER Working Papers 8769, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. David M. Cutler & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "Macroeconomic Performance and the Disadvantaged," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 22(2), pages 1-74.
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