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On the evolution of income inequality in the United States


  • 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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  • Kevin A. Bryan & Leonardo Martinez, 2008. "On the evolution of income inequality in the United States," Economic Quarterly, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Spr, pages 97-120.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedreq:y:2008:i:spr:p:97-120:n:v.94no.2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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, January.
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    3. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Postsecondary Education and Increasing Wage Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 195-199, May.
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    6. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 733-783, October.
    7. Kopczuk, Wojciech & Saez, Emmanuel, 2004. "Top Wealth Shares in the United States, 1916-2000: Evidence From Estate Tax Returns," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 445-487, June.
    8. 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.
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    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
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    14. 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.
    15. 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.
    16. 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.
    17. 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.
    18. 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.
    19. Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2006. "Inequality and Schooling Responses to Globalization Forces: Lessons from History," NBER Working Papers 12553, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Udo EBERT & Patrick MOYES, 2017. "The Impact of Talents and Preferences on Income Inequality," Cahiers du GREThA 2017-15, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée.
    2. Riccardo Fiorentini & Guido Montani, 2012. "The New Global Political Economy," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 14443.

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    Labor market ; Income distribution;


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