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Trends in U. S. family income mobility, 1969-2006


  • Katharine L. Bradbury


Much of America's promise is predicated on 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' income positions 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; given this rising cross-sectional inequality, changes over time in mobility determine the degree to which long-term income is also increasingly unequally distributed. ; Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and a number of mobility concepts and measures drawn from the literature, this paper examines family income mobility levels and trends for U.S. working-age family heads and spouses during the time span 1969–2006, based on a post-tax, post-transfer concept of income adjusted for family size. By most measures, mobility is lower in more recent periods (1995–2005) than in the late seventies and the eighties (the 1977–1987 or 1981–1991 periods). Comparing results based on pre-government income suggests that an increasingly redistributive tax and transfer system contributed to rising mobility into the 1980s, but that its impact has since waned. Overall, the evidence indicates that over the 1969-to-2006 time span, family income mobility across the distribution decreased, families' later-year incomes increasingly depended on their starting place, and the distribution of families' lifetime incomes became less equal.

Suggested Citation

  • Katharine L. Bradbury, 2011. "Trends in U. S. family income mobility, 1969-2006," Working Papers 11-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:11-10

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary S. Field & Robert Duval Hernandez & Samuel Freije & Maria Laura Sanchez Puerta, 2007. "Intragenerational Income Mobility in Latin America," ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, vol. 0(Spring 20), pages 101-154, January.
    2. Burkhauser, Richard V & Smeeding, Timothy M & Merz, Joachim, 1996. "Relative Inequality and Poverty in Germany and the United States Using Alternative Equivalence Scales," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 42(4), pages 381-400, December.
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    5. Auten, Gerald & Gee, Geoffrey, 2009. "Income Mobility in the United States: New Evidence From Income Tax Data," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 62(2), pages 301-328, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alloza, Mario, 2016. "The impact of taxes on income mobility," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86178, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

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    Income distribution ; Labor mobility ; Migration; Internal;

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