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The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective

  • Thomas Piketty
  • Emmanuel Saez

This paper summarizes the main findings of the recent studies that have constructed top income and wealth shares series over the century for a number of countries using tax statistics. Most countries experience a dramatic drop in top income shares in the first part of the century due to a precipitous drop in large wealth holdings during the wars and depression shocks. Top income shares do not recover in the immediate post war decades. However, over the last 30 years, top income shares have increased substantially in English speaking countries but not at all in continental Europe countries or Japan. This increase is due to an unprecedented surge in top wage incomes starting in the 1970s and accelerating in the 1990s. As a result, top wage earners have replaced capital income earners at the top of the income distribution in English speaking countries. We discuss the proposed explanations and the main questions that remain open.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11955.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11955.

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Date of creation: Jan 2006
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Publication status: published as Piketty, Thomas and Emmanuel Saez. “The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective.” American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 96, 2 (May 2006): 200-205.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11955
Note: PE
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  1. Simon Kuznets, 1950. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn50-1, 07.
  2. Simon Kuznets, 1950. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Savings," NBER Chapters, in: Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings, pages 45-58 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Dell, Fabien & Piketty, Thomas & Saez, Emmanuel, 2005. "Income and Wealth Concentration in Switzerland Over the 20th Century," CEPR Discussion Papers 5090, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2005. "Where did the Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," CEPR Discussion Papers 5419, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Emmanuel Saez & Michael R. Veall, 2005. "The Evolution of High Incomes in Northern America: Lessons from Canadian Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 831-849, June.
  6. Ian Dew-Becker & Robert J. Gordon, 2005. "Where Did Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 36(2), pages 67-150.
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