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Changes in the Distribution of Income Volatility

  • Shane T. Jensen
  • Stephen H. Shore
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    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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    File URL: http://arxiv.org/pdf/0808.1090
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    Paper provided by arXiv.org in its series Papers with number 0808.1090.

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    Date of creation: Aug 2008
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    Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:0808.1090
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://arxiv.org/

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    1. Costas Meghir & Luigi Pistaferri, 2001. "Income variance dynamics and heterogenity," IFS Working Papers W01/07, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    2. Mary C. Daly & Greg J. Duncan, 1997. "Earnings mobility and instability, 1969-1995," Working Papers in Applied Economic Theory 97-06, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    3. Richard Blundell & Luigi Pistaferri & Ian Preston, 2008. "Consumption Inequality and Partial Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1887-1921, December.
    4. Abowd, John M & Card, David, 1989. "On the Covariance Structure of Earnings and Hours Changes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 411-45, March.
    5. John F. Geweke & Michael P. Keane, 1997. "An empirical analysis of income dynamics among men in the PSID: 1968-1989," Staff Report 233, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    6. Shin, Donggyun & Solon, Gary, 2011. "Trends in men's earnings volatility: What does the Panel Study of Income Dynamics show?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(7-8), pages 973-982, August.
    7. Comin, Diego & Groshen, Erica L. & Rabin, Bess, 2009. "Turbulent firms, turbulent wages?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 109-133, January.
    8. Carroll, Christopher D. & Samwick, Andrew A., 1997. "The nature of precautionary wealth," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 41-71, September.
    9. Haider, Steven J, 2001. "Earnings Instability and Earnings Inequality of Males in the United States: 1967-1991," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(4), pages 799-836, October.
    10. Susan Dynarski & Jonathan Gruber, 1997. "Can Families Smooth Variable Earnings?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 229-303.
    11. Robert A. Moffitt & Peter Gottschalk, 2002. "Trends in the Transitory Variance of Earnings in the United States," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages C68-C73, March.
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