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The Evolution of Income Concentration in Japan, 1886-2002: Evidence from Income Tax Statistics


  • Chiaki Moriguchi
  • Emmanuel Saez


This paper studies the evolution of income concentration in Japan from 1886 to 2002 by constructing long-run series of top income shares and top wage income shares, using income tax statistics. We find that (1) income concentration was extremely high throughout the pre-WWII period during which the nation underwent rapid industrialization; (2) a drastic de-concentration of income at the top took place in 1938-1945; (3) income concentration has remained low throughout the post-WWII period despite the high economic growth; and (4) top income composition in Japan has shifted dramatically from capital income to employment income over the course of the 20th century. We attribute the precipitous fall in income concentration during WWII primarily to the collapse of capital income due to wartime regulations and inflation. We argue that the change in the institutional structure under the occupational reforms made the one-time income de-concentration difficult to reverse. In contrast to the sharp increase in wage income inequality observed in the United States since 1970, the top wage income shares in Japan have remained remarkably stable over the recent decades. We show that the change in technology or tax policies alone cannot account for the comparative experience of Japan and the United States. Instead we suggest that institutional factors such as corporate governance and union structure are important determinants of wage income inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Chiaki Moriguchi & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "The Evolution of Income Concentration in Japan, 1886-2002: Evidence from Income Tax Statistics," NBER Working Papers 12558, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12558
    Note: LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Ross Finnie & Ian Irvine, 2006. "Mobility and Gender at the Top Tail of the Earnings Distribution," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 37(2), pages 149-173.
    2. Jean-Pascal Bassino & Kyoji Fukao & Ralph Paprzycki & Tokihiko Settsu & Tangjun Yuan, 2010. "Regional Inequality and Industrial Structures in Pre-War Japan: An Analysis Based on New Prefectural GDP Estimates," Global COE Hi-Stat Discussion Paper Series gd10-138, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
    3. Jesper Roine & Daniel Waldenström, 2011. "Common Trends and Shocks to Top Incomes: A Structural Breaks Approach," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(3), pages 832-846, August.
    4. Frank A Cowell & Maria-Pia Victoria-Feser, 2007. "Modelling Lorenz Curves:robust and semi-parametric issues," STICERD - Distributional Analysis Research Programme Papers 91, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    5. Foellmi, Reto & Wuergler, Tobias & Zweimüller, Josef, 2014. "The macroeconomics of Model T," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 153(C), pages 617-647.
    6. Fumio Ohtake & Shinji Takenaka, 2007. "Attitudes toward the Income Gap: Japan-U.S. Comparison," ISER Discussion Paper 0687, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    7. Jesper Roine & Daniel Waldenström, 2012. "On The Role Of Capital Gains In Swedish Income Inequality," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 58(3), pages 569-587, September.
    8. Jess Benhabib & Alberto Bisin, 2016. "Skewed Wealth Distributions: Theory and Empirics," NBER Working Papers 21924, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
    10. Jess Benhabib & Alberto Bisin & Shenghao Zhu, 2011. "The Distribution of Wealth and Fiscal Policy in Economies With Finitely Lived Agents," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(1), pages 123-157, January.
    11. Jess Benhabib & Alberto Bisin, 2006. "The distribution of wealth and redistributive policies," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000001162, David K. Levine.
    12. Claudia Sanhueza & Ricardo Mayer, 2011. "Top Incomes in Chile using 50 years of household surveys : 1957-2007," Estudios de Economia, University of Chile, Department of Economics, vol. 38(1 Year 20), pages 169-193, June.
    13. Andrew Leigh, 2007. "How Closely Do Top Income Shares Track Other Measures of Inequality?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(524), pages 619-633, November.
    14. Timothy Neal, 2013. "Using Panel Co-Integration Methods To Understand Rising Top Income Shares," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 89(284), pages 83-98, March.
    15. Mandai, Yu, and Nakabayashi, Masaki, 2017. "Stabilize the Peasant Economy: Governance of Foreclosure by the Shogunate," ISS Discussion Paper Series (series F) f187, Institute of Social Science, The University of Tokyo, revised 28 Nov 2017.
    16. Bassino, Jean-Pascal, 2006. "Inequality in Japan (1892-1941): Physical stature, income, and health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 62-88, January.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • N15 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Asia including Middle East

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