IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Changing Family Behavior and the U.S. Income Distribution


  • Mary C. Daly

    (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)

  • Robert G. Valletta

    (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)


The trend toward increasing family income inequality in the U.S. over the past several decades is well documented. Among possible explanations for this increase are rising inequality in individual earnings, changes in family labor supply decisions, and changes in family structure and living arrangements. We analyze the contribution of the latter two factors to rising family income inequality during the 1980s using conditionally weighted density estimation, a semiparametric decomposition technique recently pioneered and applied to assess the causes of rising earnings inequality (DiNardo, Fortin, and Lemieux 1996). This technique enables estimation of the impact of the modeled factors on the complete distribution of income. We use data from the March Current Population Surveys for the years 1980 and 1990, which yield family income information for the years 1979 and 1989. The primary effect of both changing family structure and changes in wives' labor force participation was on the midpoint of the family income distribution. The effect of changing family structure on rising inequality was small over this period, primarily because the net change in family structure was small. However, the increase in wives' labor force participation explains about 10 to 25 percent of the increase in family income inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Mary C. Daly & Robert G. Valletta, 2000. "Changing Family Behavior and the U.S. Income Distribution," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1640, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:wc2000:1640

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: main text
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Delgado, Miguel A & Robinson, Peter M, 1992. " Nonparametric and Semiparametric Methods for Economic Research," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 6(3), pages 201-249.
    2. Katharine Bradbury, 1996. "Growing inequality of family incomes: changing families and changing wages," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Jul, pages 55-82.
    3. Katz, Lawrence F. & Autor, David H., 1999. "Changes in the wage structure and earnings inequality," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1463-1555 Elsevier.
    4. Delgado, Miguel A. & Robinson, Peter M., 1992. "Nonparametric and semiparametric methods for economic research," UC3M Working papers. Economics 2827, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Departamento de Economía.
    5. Chinhui Juhn, 1992. "Decline of Male Labor Market Participation: The Role of Declining Market Opportunities," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 79-121.
    6. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M, 1997. "Wage Inequality and Family Labor Supply," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 72-97, January.
    7. Rebecca M. Blank & David Card, 1993. "Poverty, Income Distribution, and Growth: Are They Still Connected," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 24(2), pages 285-340.
    8. 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.
    9. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-1381, September.
    10. Burtless, Gary, 1999. "Effects of growing wage disparities and changing family composition on the U.S. income distribution," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(4-6), pages 853-865, April.
    11. Maria Cancian & Deborah Reed, 1998. "Assessing The Effects Of Wives' Earnings On Family Income Inequality," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(1), pages 73-79, February.
    12. Lerman, Robert I, 1996. "The Impact of the Changing US Family Structure on Child Poverty and Income Inequality," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 63(250), pages 119-139, Suppl..
    13. Lerman, Robert I & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1985. "Income Inequality Effects by Income," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 67(1), pages 151-156, February.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    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:ecm:wc2000:1640. 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: (Christopher F. Baum) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    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.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with 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.