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Editor's Choice Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data

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  • Emmanuel Saez
  • Gabriel Zucman

Abstract

This paper combines income tax returns with macroeconomic household balance sheets to estimate the distribution of wealth in the United States since 1913. We estimate wealth by capitalizing the incomes reported by individual taxpayers, accounting for assets that do not generate taxable income. We successfully test our capitalization method in three micro datasets where we can observe both income and wealth: the Survey of Consumer Finance, linked estate and income tax returns, and foundations’ tax records. We find that wealth concentration was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then. The top 0.1% wealth share has risen from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012, a level almost as high as in 1929. Top wealth-holders are younger today than in the 1960s and earn a higher fraction of the economy’s labor income. The bottom 90% wealth share first increased up to the mid-1980s and then steadily declined. The increase in wealth inequality in recent decades is due to the upsurge of top incomes combined with an increase in saving rate inequality. We explain how our findings can be reconciled with Survey of Consumer Finances and estate tax data. JEL Codes: D31, E01, E21, N32.

Suggested Citation

  • Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2016. "Editor's Choice Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 131(2), pages 519-578.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:131:y:2016:i:2:p:519-578.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/qje/qjw004
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    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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