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Top incomes and inequality in the UK: reconciling estimates from household survey and tax return data


  • Richard V Burkhauser
  • Nicolas Hérault
  • Stephen P Jenkins
  • Roger Wilkins


We provide the first systematic comparison of UK inequality estimates derived from tax data (World Wealth and Income Database) and household survey data (the Households Below Average Income [HBAI] subfile of the Family Resources Survey). We document by how much existing survey data underestimate top income shares relative to tax data. Exploiting the flexibility that access to unit-record survey data provides, we then derive new top-income-adjusted data. These data enable us to: better track tax-data-estimated top income shares; change the definitions of income, income-sharing unit, and unit of analysis used and thereby undertake more comparable cross-national comparisons (we provide a UK-US illustration); and examine UK inequality levels and trends using four summary indices. Our estimates reveal a greater rise in the inequality of equivalized gross household income among all persons between the mid-1990s and late 2000s than shown by the corresponding HBAI series, especially between 2004/05 and 2007/08.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard V Burkhauser & Nicolas Hérault & Stephen P Jenkins & Roger Wilkins, 2018. "Top incomes and inequality in the UK: reconciling estimates from household survey and tax return data," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(2), pages 301-326.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:oxecpp:v:70:y:2018:i:2:p:301-326.

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    Cited by:

    1. Atkinson, Anthony B. & Jenkins, Stephen P., 2018. "A Different Perspective on the Evolution of UK Income Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 11884, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. repec:bla:econpa:v:37:y:2018:i:2:p:113-145 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Obolenskaya, Polina & Hills, John, 2019. "Flat-lining or seething beneath the surface?: two decades of changing economic inequality in the UK," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 101128, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C81 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Methodology for Collecting, Estimating, and Organizing Microeconomic Data; Data Access
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution


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