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Revised estimates of intergenerational income mobility in the United States

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  • Bhashkar Mazumder

Abstract

Solon’s (1992) landmark study estimated the intergenerational elasticity (IGE) in income between fathers and sons to be 0.4 or higher. This dramatically changed the consensus view of the U.S. as a highly mobile society. In this comment, I show both analytically and empirically how Solon and others have actually underestimated this parameter by about 30 percent, suggesting that the IGE is actually close to 0.6 and that the U.S. appears to be among the least mobile countries. There are two key measurement issues that lead researchers to underestimate the IGE. First, the use of short-term averages of fathers’ earnings is a poor proxy for lifetime economic status due to highly persistent transitory shocks. Second, the variance of transitory fluctuations to earnings varies considerably by age causing a “lifecycle” bias when samples include measures of fathers’ earnings when they are especially young or old. In this comment Solon’s results are replicated and then re- estimated using a new technique that is able to address these issues using the same PSID sample. The results confirm that the intergenerational elasticity is likely to be around 0.6.

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  • Bhashkar Mazumder, 2003. "Revised estimates of intergenerational income mobility in the United States," Working Paper Series WP-03-16, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhwp:wp-03-16
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    1. Altonji, Joseph G & Segal, Lewis M, 1996. "Small-Sample Bias in GMM Estimation of Covariance Structures," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 14(3), pages 353-366, July.
    2. Dean R. Hyslop, 2001. "Rising U.S. Earnings Inequality and Family Labor Supply: The Covariance Structure of Intrafamily Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 755-777.
    3. Kristin F. Butcher, 1994. "Black Immigrants in the United States: A Comparison with Native Blacks and other Immigrants," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 47(2), pages 265-284, January.
    4. Haider, Steven J, 2001. "Earnings Instability and Earnings Inequality of Males in the United States: 1967-1991," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(4), pages 799-836, October.
    5. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2001. "Earnings mobility in the US: a new look at intergenerational inequality," Working Paper Series WP-01-18, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    6. Abowd, John M & Card, David, 1989. "On the Covariance Structure of Earnings and Hours Changes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 411-445, March.
    7. David Card, 1990. "Intertemporal Labor Supply: An Assessment," Working Papers 649, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
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    Cited by:

    1. Hendricks, Lutz, 2007. "The intergenerational persistence of lifetime earnings," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 125-144, January.
    2. Jesse Rothstein & Nathan Wozny, 2013. "Permanent Income and the Black-White Test Score Gap," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, pages 510-544.
    3. Maribel Jiménez, 2011. "Un Análisis Empírico de las No Linealidades en la Movilidad Intergeneracional del Ingreso. El caso de la Argentina," CEDLAS, Working Papers 0114, CEDLAS, Universidad Nacional de La Plata.
    4. Muller, Seán M., 2010. "Another problem in the estimation of intergenerational income mobility," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 108(3), pages 291-295, September.

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    Keywords

    Income;

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