IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Trends in U.S. family income mobility, 1967–2004

Listed author(s):
  • Katharine L. Bradbury
  • Jane Katz

Much of America’s promise is predicated on the existence of economic mobility—the idea that people are not limited or defined by where they start, but can move up the economic ladder based on their efforts and accomplishments. Family income mobility—changes in individual families’ real incomes over time—is one indicator of the degree to which the eventual economic wellbeing of any family is tethered to its starting point. In the United States, family income inequality has risen from year to year since the mid-1970s, raising questions about whether long-term income is also increasingly unequally distributed; changes over time in mobility, which can offset or amplify the cross-sectional increase in inequality, determine the degree to which the inequality of longer-term income has risen in parallel. ; Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and a number of mobility concepts and measures drawn from the literature, we examine mobility levels and trends for U.S. working-age families, overall and by race, during the time span 1967–2004. By most measures, we find that mobility is lower in more recent periods (the 1990s into the early 2000s) than in earlier periods (the 1970s). Most notably, mobility of families starting near the bottom has worsened over time. However, in recent years, the down-trend in mobility is more or less pronounced (or even non-existent) depending on the measure, although a decrease in the frequency with which panel data on family incomes are gathered makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions. Measured relative to the overall distribution or in absolute terms, black families exhibit substantially less mobility than whites in all periods; their mobility decreased between the 1970s and the 1990s, but no more than that of white families, although they lost ground in terms of relative income. ; Taken together, this evidence suggests that over the 1967-to-2004 time span, a low-income family’s probability of moving up decreased, families’ later year incomes increasingly depended on their starting place, and the distribution of families’ lifetime incomes became less equal.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Working Papers with number 09-7.

in new window

Date of creation: 2009
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:09-7
Contact details of provider: Postal:
600 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02210

Phone: 617-973-3397
Fax: 617-973-4221
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

Order Information: Email:

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:09-7. 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: (Catherine Spozio)

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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link 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 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.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.