IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/h/eee/incchp/1-07.html
   My bibliography  Save this book chapter

Theories of the distribution of earnings

In: Handbook of Income Distribution

Author

Listed:
  • Neal, Derek
  • Rosen, Sherwin

Abstract

Several empirical regularities motivate most theories of the distribution of labor earnings. Earnings distributions tend to be skewed to the right and display long right tails. Mean earnings always exceed median earnings and the top percentiles of earners account for quite a disproportionate share of total earnings. Mean earnings also differ greatly across groups defined by occupation, education, experience, and other observed traits. With respect to the evolution of the distribution of earnings for a given cohort, initial earnings dispersion is smaller than the dispersion observed in prime working years.We explore several models that address these stylized facts. Stochastic theories examine links between assumptions about the distribution of endowments and implied features of earnings distributions given assumptions about the processes that translate endowments into earnings. Selection models describe how workers choose a career. Because workers select their best option from a menu of possible careers, their allocation decisions tend to generate skewed earnings distributions. Sorting models illustrate this process in an environment where workers learn about their endowments and therefore adjust their allocation decisions over time.Human capital theory demonstrates that earnings dispersion is a prerequisite for significant skill investments. Without earnings dispersion, workers would not willingly make the investments necessary for high-skill jobs. Human capital models illustrate how endowments of wealth and talent influence the investment decisions that generate observed distributions of earnings.Agency models illustrate how wage structures may determine rather than reflect worker productivity. Tournament theory addresses the long right tails of wage distributions within firms. Efficiency wage models address differences in wages across employments that involve different monitoring technologies.

Suggested Citation

  • Neal, Derek & Rosen, Sherwin, 2000. "Theories of the distribution of earnings," Handbook of Income Distribution,in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 7, pages 379-427 Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:incchp:1-07
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B7RKR-4FF32Y6-B/2/d2de6a6c277a6a3ab785f032454fe8c4
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:incchp:1-07. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/bookseriesdescription.cws_home/BS_HE/description .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.