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Pareto and the upper tail of the income distribution in the UK: 1799 to the present

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  • A.B. Atkinson

Abstract

The Pareto distribution has long been a source of fascination to economists, and the Pareto coefficient is widely used, in theoretical and empirical studies, as a summary of the degree of concentration of top incomes. This paper examines the empirical evidence from income tax data concerning top incomes in the UK, contrasting the dramatic changes that took place in the twentieth century, after 1918, with the much more modest changes in the preceding nineteenth century. Probing beneath the surface, it identifies a number of features of the evolution of the UK income inequality that warrant closer attention. These include the changing shape of the upper tail, where there is a link with Pareto's theory of elites, the need for a richer functional form to describe top incomes, and the limited evidence at the top of the distribution for a Kuznets curve in nineteenth century Britain.

Suggested Citation

  • A.B. Atkinson, 2016. "Pareto and the upper tail of the income distribution in the UK: 1799 to the present," CASE Papers /198, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
  • Handle: RePEc:cep:sticas:/198
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    File URL: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cp/casepaper198.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
    2. Richard V. Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Stephen P. Jenkins & Jeff Larrimore, 2009. "Recent Trends in Top Income Shares in the USA: Reconciling Estimates from March CPS and IRS Tax Return Data," NBER Working Papers 15320, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. A. L. Bowley, 1914. "The British Super-Tax and the Distribution of Income," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(2), pages 255-268.
    4. Giulio Bottazzi & Davide Pirino & Federico Tamagni, 2015. "Zipf law and the firm size distribution: a critical discussion of popular estimators," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 585-610, July.
    5. Chipman, John S., 1974. "The welfare ranking of Pareto distributions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 275-282, November.
    6. Cirillo, Pasquale, 2013. "Are your data really Pareto distributed?," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 392(23), pages 5947-5962.
    7. A. B. Atkinson & S. Voitchovsky, 2011. "The Distribution of Top Earnings in the UK since the Second World War," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 78(311), pages 440-459, July.
    8. Richard V. Burkhauser & Nicolas Hérault & Stephen P. Jenkins & Roger Wilkins, 2016. "What has Been Happening to UK Income Inequality Since the Mid-1990s? Answers from Reconciled and Combined Household Survey and Tax Return Data," NBER Working Papers 21991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Joseph A. Schumpeter, 1949. "Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923)," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 63(2), pages 147-173.
    10. Richard V. Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Stephen P. Jenkins & Jeff Larrimore, 2012. "Recent Trends in Top Income Shares in the United States: Reconciling Estimates from March CPS and IRS Tax Return Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(2), pages 371-388, May.
    11. McDonald, James B. & Xu, Yexiao J., 1995. "A generalization of the beta distribution with applications," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 66(1-2), pages 133-152.
    12. Stephen P. Jenkins, 2017. "Pareto Models, Top Incomes and Recent Trends in UK Income Inequality," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 84(334), pages 261-289, April.
    13. Feinstein, Charles, 1988. "The Rise and Fall of the Williamson Curve," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(03), pages 699-729, September.
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    15. Xavier Gabaix, 2009. "Power Laws in Economics and Finance," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 255-294, May.
    16. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1983. "Reinterpreting Britain's social tables, 1688-1913," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 94-109, January.
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    1. Pareto and the upper tail of the income distribution in the UK: 1799 to the present
      by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2016-10-25 18:44:54

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    1. Stephen P. Jenkins, 2017. "Pareto Models, Top Incomes and Recent Trends in UK Income Inequality," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 84(334), pages 261-289, April.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Pareto; income; distribution; tail;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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