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Wage Inequality, Earnings Inequality and Poverty in the U.S. Over the Last Quarter of the Twentieth Century


  • Peter Gottschalk

    () (Boston College)

  • Sheldon Danziger

    (University of Michigan)


This paper tracks distributional changes over the last quarter of the twentieth century. We focus on three conceptually distinct distributions: the distribution of wages, the distribution of annual earnings and the distribution of total family income adjusted for family size. We show that all three distributions became less equal during the last half of the 1970's and the 1980's. This was, however, not the case during the 1990's. Wage inequality stabilized, earnings inequality declined and family income inequality actually continued to rise. We decompose changes in family income inequality over the last quarter century and show that roughly half of the increase is accounted for by changes in the distribution of earnings. This suggests that further research on family income inequality should pay as much attention to changes in the distribution of other income sources as to factors affecting the labor market.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Gottschalk & Sheldon Danziger, 2003. "Wage Inequality, Earnings Inequality and Poverty in the U.S. Over the Last Quarter of the Twentieth Century," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 560, Boston College Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:boc:bocoec:560

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anthony F. Shorrocks, 1983. "The Impact of Income Components on the Distribution of Family Incomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(2), pages 311-326.
    2. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 733-783, October.
    3. Peter Gottschalk, 1997. "Inequality, Income Growth, and Mobility: The Basic Facts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 21-40, Spring.
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    Cited by:

    1. Arnstein Aassve & Simon Burgess & Matt Dickson & Carol Propper, 2005. "Modelling Poverty by not Modelling Poverty: An Application of a Simultaneous Hazards Approach to the UK," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 05/134, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    2. David Domeij, 2008. "Rising Earnings Inequality in Sweden: The Role of Composition and Prices," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(3), pages 609-634, September.

    More about this item


    Poverty; earnings inequality; family income inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty

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