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Changes in the Distribution of Income Volatility

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  • Shane T. Jensen
  • Stephen H. Shore

Abstract

Recent research has documented a significant rise in the volatility (e.g., expected squared change) of individual incomes in the U.S. since the 1970s. Existing measures of this trend abstract from individual heterogeneity, effectively estimating an increase in average volatility. We decompose this increase in average volatility and find that it is far from representative of the experience of most people: there has been no systematic rise in volatility for the vast majority of individuals. The rise in average volatility has been driven almost entirely by a sharp rise in the income volatility of those expected to have the most volatile incomes, identified ex-ante by large income changes in the past. We document that the self-employed and those who self-identify as risk-tolerant are much more likely to have such volatile incomes; these groups have experienced much larger increases in income volatility than the population at large. These results color the policy implications one might draw from the rise in average volatility. While the basic results are apparent from PSID summary statistics, providing a complete characterization of the dynamics of the volatility distribution is a methodological challenge. We resolve these difficulties with a Markovian hierarchical Dirichlet process that builds on work from the non-parametric Bayesian statistics literature.

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  • Shane T. Jensen & Stephen H. Shore, 2008. "Changes in the Distribution of Income Volatility," Papers 0808.1090, arXiv.org.
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:0808.1090
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    2. Jeffrey Brown & Chichun Fang & Francisco Gomes, 2012. "Risk and Returns to Education," NBER Working Papers 18300, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Champagne, Julien & Kurmann, André & Stewart, Jay, 2017. "Reconciling the divergence in aggregate U.S. wage series," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 27-41.
    4. Claudia M. Buch, 2013. "Has Labor Income Become More Volatile? Evidence from International Industry-Level Data," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 14(4), pages 399-431, November.
    5. Meghir, Costas & Pistaferri, Luigi, 2011. "Earnings, Consumption and Life Cycle Choices," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 9, pages 773-854, Elsevier.
    6. Champagne, Julien & Kurmann, André, 2013. "The great increase in relative wage volatility in the United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(2), pages 166-183.
    7. Olga Gorbachev & Keshav Dogra, 2009. "Evolution of Consumption Volatility for the Liquidity Constrained Households over 1983 to 2004," Edinburgh School of Economics Discussion Paper Series 193, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
    8. Claudia M. Buch, 2008. "The Great Risk Shift? Income Volatility in an International Perspective," CESifo Working Paper Series 2465, CESifo.
    9. Kai Liu, 2010. "Wage Risk, On-the-job Search and Partial Insurance," 2010 Meeting Papers 1136, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    10. L. Hospido, 2012. "Modelling heterogeneity and dynamics in the volatility of individual wages," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(3), pages 386-414, April.
    11. Kelly D. Edmiston, 2009. "Characteristics of high foreclosure neighborhoods in the Tenth District," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, vol. 94(Q II), pages 51-75.
    12. Julien Champagne, 2015. "The Carrot and the Stick: The Business Cycle Implications of Incentive Pay in the Labor Search Model," Staff Working Papers 15-35, Bank of Canada.
    13. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Happiness Inequality in the United States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(S2), pages 33-79, June.
    14. Julien Champagne & André Kurmann, 2010. "The Great Increase in Relative Volatility of Real Wages in the United States," Cahiers de recherche 1010, CIRPEE.
    15. Alessio Tomelleri, 2022. "Earnings instability and non-standard employment: cohort-based evidence from the Italian labour market," FBK-IRVAPP Working Papers 2022-02, Research Institute for the Evaluation of Public Policies (IRVAPP), Bruno Kessler Foundation.
    16. Robert Moffitt & Peter Gottschalk, 2008. "Trends in the Transitory Variance of Male Earnings in the U.S., 1970-2004," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 697, Boston College Department of Economics.
    17. Johannes Martin, 2013. "The Impact on Earnings When Entering Self-Employment: Evidence for Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 537, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    18. Brown, Jeffrey R. & Fang, Chichun & Gomes, Francisco, 2015. "Risks and returns to education over time," CFS Working Paper Series 512, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
    19. Keshav Dogra & Olga Gorbachev, 2016. "Consumption Volatility, Liquidity Constraints and Household Welfare," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 126(597), pages 2012-2037, November.
    20. Sam Schulhofer-Wohl & Andriy Norets, 2009. "Heterogeneity in income processes," 2009 Meeting Papers 999, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    21. Peter Gottschalk & Robert Moffitt, 2009. "The Rising Instability of U.S. Earnings," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(4), pages 3-24, Fall.
    22. Liu, Kai, 2015. "Wage Risk and the Value of Job Mobility in Early Employment Careers," IZA Discussion Papers 9256, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    23. Whalley, Alexander, 2011. "Education and labor market risk: Understanding the role of data cleaning," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 528-545, June.

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