IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/13345.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Uncovering the American Dream: Inequality and Mobility in Social Security Earnings Data since 1937

Author

Listed:
  • Wojciech Kopczuk
  • Emmanuel Saez
  • Jae Song

Abstract

This paper uses Social Security Administration longitudinal earnings micro data since 1937 to analyze the evolution of inequality and mobility in the United States. Earnings inequality follows a U-shape pattern, decreasing sharply up to 1953 and increasing steadily afterwards. We find that short-term and long-term (rank based) mobility among all workers has been quite stable since 1950 (after a temporary surge during World War II). Therefore, the pattern of annual earnings inequality is very close to the pattern of inequality of longer term earnings. Mobility at the top has also been very stable and has not mitigated the dramatic increase in annual earnings concentration since the 1970s. However, the stability in long-term earnings mobility among all workers masks substantial heterogeneity across demographic groups. The decrease in the gender earnings gap and the substantial increase in upward mobility over a career for women is the driving force behind the relative stability of overall mobility measures which mask declines in mobility among men. In contrast, overall inequality and mobility patterns are not significantly influenced by the changing size and structure of immigration nor by changes in the black/white earnings gaps.

Suggested Citation

  • Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez & Jae Song, 2007. "Uncovering the American Dream: Inequality and Mobility in Social Security Earnings Data since 1937," NBER Working Papers 13345, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13345
    Note: DAE LS PE
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13345.pdf
    Download Restriction: no
    ---><---

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Marvin H. Kosters, 1991. "Workers and Their Wages: Changing Patterns in the United States," Books, American Enterprise Institute, number 52907, September.
    2. repec:fth:prinin:282 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Martha Stinson, 2002. "Estimating Measurement Error in SIPP Annual Job Earnings: A Comparison of Census Survey and SSA Administrative Data," Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Technical Papers 2002-24, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    4. Solon, Gary, 1999. "Intergenerational mobility in the labor market," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 29, pages 1761-1800, Elsevier.
    5. Chinhui Juhn, 1999. "Wage Inequality and Demand for Skill: Evidence from Five Decades," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(3), pages 424-443, April.
    6. Peter Gottschalk, 1997. "Inequality, Income Growth, and Mobility: The Basic Facts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 21-40, Spring.
    7. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709.
    8. Hungerford, Thomas L, 1993. "U.S. Income Mobility in the Seventies and Eighties," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 39(4), pages 403-417, December.
    9. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings (1953)," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn53-1, October.
    10. Lawrence Katz & Alan Krueger, 1991. "Changes in the Structure of Wages in the Public and Private Sectors," Working Papers 662, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    11. Bound, John & Krueger, Alan B, 1991. "The Extent of Measurement Error in Longitudinal Earnings Data: Do Two Wrongs Make a Right?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 9(1), pages 1-24, January.
    12. Darren Lubotsky, 2011. "The Effect of Changes in the U.S. Wage Structure on Recent Immigrants' Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(1), pages 59-71, February.
    13. Donohue, John J, III & Heckman, James, 1991. "Continuous versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 1603-1643, December.
    14. Shin, Donggyun & Solon, Gary, 2011. "Trends in men's earnings volatility: What does the Panel Study of Income Dynamics show?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(7-8), pages 973-982, August.
    15. John Abowd & Martha Stinson, 2011. "Estimating Measurement Error in SIPP Annual Job Earnings: A Comparison of Census Bureau Survey and SSA Administrative Data," Working Papers 11-20, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    16. Moshe Buchinsky & Jennifer Hunt, 1999. "Wage Mobility In The United States," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(3), pages 351-368, August.
    17. Lena Edlund & Wojciech Kopczuk, 2009. "Women, Wealth, and Mobility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 146-178, March.
    18. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2005. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Re-Assessing the Revisionists," NBER Working Papers 11627, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Gordon H. Hanson, 2006. "Illegal Migration from Mexico to the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 44(4), pages 869-924, December.
    20. Lindert, Peter H., 2000. "Three centuries of inequality in Britain and America," Handbook of Income Distribution, in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3, pages 167-216, Elsevier.
    21. Robert J. LaLonde & Robert H. Topel, 1992. "The Assimilation of Immigrants in the U. S. Labor Market," NBER Chapters, in: Immigration and the Work Force: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas, pages 67-92, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Card, David & Krueger, Alan B, 1993. "Trends in Relative Black-White Earnings Revisited," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 85-91, May.
    23. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Increasing Residual Wage Inequality: Composition Effects, Noisy Data, or Rising Demand for Skill?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 461-498, June.
    24. Nicole M. Fortin & Thomas Lemieux, 1998. "Rank Regressions, Wage Distributions, and the Gender Gap," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 33(3), pages 610-643.
    25. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1991. "Changes in the Structure of Wages in the Public and Private Sectors," Working Papers 662, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    26. Li, Hongzhe & Hong, Fangxin, 2006. "Discussion," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 101, pages 1332-1334, December.
    27. Pischke, Jorn-Steffen, 1995. "Measurement Error and Earnings Dynamics: Some Estimates from the PSID Validation Study," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 13(3), pages 305-314, July.
    28. Orazio Attanasio & Erich Battistin & Hidehiko Ichimura, 2004. "What Really Happened to Consumption Inequality in the US?," NBER Working Papers 10338, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    29. Frank Levy & Peter Temin, 2007. "Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America," NBER Working Papers 13106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    30. Bollinger, Christopher R, 1998. "Measurement Error in the Current Population Survey: A Nonparametric Look," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(3), pages 576-594, July.
    31. Dirk Krueger & Fabrizio Perri, 2006. "Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality? Evidence and Theory -super-1," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(1), pages 163-193.
    32. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
    33. Marianne Bertrand & Kevin F. Hallock, 2001. "The Gender Gap in Top Corporate Jobs," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 55(1), pages 3-21, October.
    34. David M. Cutler & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "Macroeconomic Performance and the Disadvantaged," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 22(2), pages 1-74.
    35. Robert Carroll & David Joulfaian & Mark Rider, 2006. "Income Mobility: The Recent American Experience," International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series, at AYSPS, GSU paper0620, International Center for Public Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    36. James Albrecht & Anders Bjorklund & Susan Vroman, 2003. "Is There a Glass Ceiling in Sweden?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(1), pages 145-177, January.
    37. Dynan Karen & Elmendorf Douglas & Sichel Daniel, 2012. "The Evolution of Household Income Volatility," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 1-42, December.
    38. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Freeman, 1992. "Immigration and the Work Force: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number borj92-1, October.
    39. repec:fth:prinin:310 is not listed on IDEAS
    40. Smith, James P & Welch, Finis R, 1989. "Black Economic Progress after Myrdal," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(2), pages 519-564, June.
    41. Guillermina Jasso & Mark R. Rosenzweig & James P. Smith, 2000. "The Changing Skill of New Immigrants to the United States: Recent Trends and Their Determinants," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in the Economics of Immigration, pages 185-226, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Gabriel Burdín & Mauricio de Rosa & Andrea Vigorito & Joan Vilá, 2019. "Was falling inequality in all Latin American countries a data-driven illusion? Income distribution and mobility patterns in Uruguay 2009-2016," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 19-30, Instituto de Economia - IECON.
    2. Edlund, Lena & Machado, Cecilia & Sviatschi, Maria, 2015. "Bright Minds, Big Rent: Gentrification and the Rising Returns to Skill," IZA Discussion Papers 9502, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Moore, Timothy J., 2015. "The employment effects of terminating disability benefits," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 30-43.
    4. Björklund, Anders & Roine, Jesper & Waldenström, Daniel, 2008. "Intergenerational top income mobility in Sweden – A combination of equal opportunity and capitalistic dynasties," SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 705, Stockholm School of Economics.
    5. Birgitta Jansson, 2014. "Intragenerational Income Mobility in Gothenburg, Sweden, 1925–94: Before, during, and after the Rise of the Welfare State," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 54(1), pages 14-36, March.
    6. Jonathan Heathcote & Fabrizio Perri & Giovanni L. Violante, 2010. "Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States: 1967-2006," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(1), pages 15-51, January.
    7. Robert J. Gordon & Ian Dew-Becker, 2007. "Selected Issues in the Rise of Income Inequality," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 38(2), pages 169-192.
    8. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2008. "Controversies about the Rise in American Inequality: A Survey," CEPR Discussion Papers 6817, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. Jonathan A. Schwabish, 2009. "Identifying Rates of Emigration in the United States Using Administrative Earnings Records: Working Paper 2009-01," Working Papers 20516, Congressional Budget Office.
    10. Kevin A. Bryan & Leonardo Martinez, 2008. "On the evolution of income inequality in the United States," Economic Quarterly, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, vol. 94(Spr), pages 97-120.
    11. Peter Levell & Barra Roantree & Jonathan Shaw, 2016. "Mobility and the lifetime distributional impact of tax and transfer reforms," IFS Working Papers W16/17, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    12. Moriguchi, Chiaki, 2010. "Top wage incomes in Japan, 1951-2005," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 301-333, September.
    13. Frederic L Pryor, 2015. "Recent Fracturing in the US Economy and Society," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 41(2), pages 230-250, March.
    14. Lawrence Mishel & Kar-Fai Gee, 2012. "Why Aren’t Workers Benefiting from Labour Productivity Growth in the United States?," International Productivity Monitor, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, vol. 23, pages 31-43, Spring.
    15. Charles M. Beach, 2016. "Changing income inequality: A distributional paradigm for Canada," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 49(4), pages 1229-1292, November.
    16. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2007. "Long-Run Changes in the Wage Structure: Narrowing, Widening, Polarizing," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 38(2), pages 135-168.
    17. Alexander Gelber, 2008. "Taxation and Family Labor Supply," 2008 Meeting Papers 249, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    18. 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.
    19. Lena Edlund & Cecilia Machado & Maria Micaela Sviatschi, 2015. "Gentrification and the Rising Returns to Skill," NBER Working Papers 21729, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Pendakur Krishna & Pendakur Ravi & Woodcock Simon D., 2008. "A Representation Index: Measuring the Representation of Minorities in the Income Distribution," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-21, October.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2006. "The U.S. Gender Pay Gap in the 1990S: Slowing Convergence," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 60(1), pages 45-66, October.
    2. Dew-Becker, Ian & Gordon, Robert J, 2008. "Controversies about the Rise in American Inequality: A Survey," CEPR Discussion Papers 6817, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Lisa M. Dragoset & Gary S. Fields, 2006. "U.S. Earnings Mobility: Comparing Survey-Based and Administrative-Based Estimates," Working Papers 55, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    4. Borghans, Lex & ter Weel, Bas & Weinberg, Bruce A., 2005. "People People: Social Capital and the Labor-Market Outcomes of Underrepresented Groups," IZA Discussion Papers 1494, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Lex Borghans & Bas Ter Weel & Bruce A. Weinberg, 2014. "People Skills and the Labor-Market Outcomes of Underrepresented Groups," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 67(2), pages 287-334, April.
    6. Darren Lubotsky, 2007. "Chutes or Ladders? A Longitudinal Analysis of Immigrant Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115(5), pages 820-867, October.
    7. Fredrik Andersson & Elizabeth E. Davis & Matthew L. Freedman & Julia I. Lane & Brian P. Mccall & Kristin Sandusky, 2012. "Decomposing the Sources of Earnings Inequality: Assessing the Role of Reallocation," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(4), pages 779-810, October.
    8. 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.
    9. Fatih Guvenen & Burhanettin Kuruscu, 2012. "Understanding The Evolution Of The Us Wage Distribution: A Theoretical Analysis," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(3), pages 482-517, May.
    10. Amitabh Chandra, 2003. "Is the Convergence of the Racial Wage Gap Illusory?," NBER Working Papers 9476, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. R. D. Plotnick & E. Smolensky & E. Evenhouse & S. Reilly, "undated". "The Twentieth Century Record of Inequality and Poverty in the United States," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1166-98, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    12. Markus Jäntti & Stephen P. Jenkins, 2013. "Income Mobility," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 607, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    13. Jonathan Heathcote & Fabrizio Perri & Giovanni L. Violante, 2010. "Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States: 1967-2006," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(1), pages 15-51, January.
    14. Claudia Goldin, 1994. "Labor Markets in the Twentieth Century," NBER Historical Working Papers 0058, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Arie Kapteyn & Jelmer Y. Ypma, 2007. "Measurement Error and Misclassification: A Comparison of Survey and Administrative Data," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25, pages 513-551.
    16. Patrick Bayer & Kerwin Kofi Charles, 2016. "Divergent Paths: Structural Change, Economic Rank, and the Evolution of Black-White Earnings Differences, 1940-2014," NBER Working Papers 22797, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Fortin, Nicole & Lemieux, Thomas & Firpo, Sergio, 2011. "Decomposition Methods in Economics," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 1, pages 1-102, Elsevier.
    18. Peter Gottschalk & Robert Moffitt, 1994. "The Growth of Earnings Instability in the U.S. Labor Market," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(2), pages 217-272.
    19. Fatih Guvenen & Burhanettin Kuruscu, 2006. "Ben-Porath meets skill-biased technical change: a theoretical analysis of rising inequality," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 144, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    20. Fatih Guvenen & Burhanettin Kuruscu, 2010. "A Quantitative Analysis of the Evolution of the U.S. Wage Distribution, 1970-2000," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2009, Volume 24, pages 227-276, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13345. 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: . General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/nberrus.html .

    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 CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc 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 RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/nberrus.html .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.