IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Top Incomes in the Long Run of History

  • Anthony B. Atkinson
  • Thomas Piketty
  • Emmanuel Saez

This paper summarizes the main findings of a recent literature that has constructed top income shares time series over the long-run for more than 20 countries using income tax statistics. Top incomes represent a small share of the population but a very significant share of total income and total taxes paid. Hence, aggregate economic growth per capita and Gini inequality indexes are very sensitive to excluding or including top incomes. We discuss the estimation methods and issues that arise when constructing top income share series, including income definition and comparability over time and across countries, tax avoidance and tax evasion. We provide a summary of the key empirical findings. Most countries experience a dramatic drop in top income shares in the first part of the 20th century in general due to shocks to top capital incomes 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 and in India and China but not in continental Europe countries or Japan. This increase is due in part to an unprecedented surge in top wage incomes. As a result, wage income comprises a larger fraction of top incomes than in the past. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and empirical models that have been proposed to account for the facts and the main questions that remain open.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w15408.pdf
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15408.

as
in new window

Length:
Date of creation: Oct 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as 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.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15408
Note: DAE LS PE
Contact details of provider: Postal:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.

Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page: http://www.nber.org
Email:


More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Carola Frydman & Raven E. Saks, 2010. "Executive Compensation: A New View from a Long-Term Perspective, 1936--2005," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 23(5), pages 2099-2138.
  2. Katz, Lawrence F. & Autor, David H., 1999. "Changes in the wage structure and earnings inequality," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1463-1555 Elsevier.
  3. Edward P. Lazear & Sherwin Rosen, 1979. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," NBER Working Papers 0401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Morrisson, Christian, 2000. "Historical perspectives on income distribution: The case of Europe," Handbook of Income Distribution, in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 217-260 Elsevier.
  5. Andrew Christie & Sarah Moritz, 2007. "Australia," Chapters, in: Innovation Without Patents, chapter 6 Edward Elgar Publishing.
  6. Roine, Jesper & Vlachos, Jonas & Waldenström, Daniel, 2009. "The long-run determinants of inequality: What can we learn from top income data?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(7-8), pages 974-988, August.
  7. Richard V. Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Stephen P. Jenkins & Jeff Larrimore, 2012. "Recent trends in top income shares in the USA: reconciling estimates from March CPS and IRS tax return data," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 41587, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  8. Thomas Piketty & Gilles Postel-Vinay & Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, 2006. "Wealth concentration ina developing economy: Paris and France, 1807-1994," Post-Print halshs-00754643, HAL.
  9. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1991. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid- Century," NBER Working Papers 3817, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Abhijit Banerjee & Thomas Piketty, 2005. "Top Indian incomes, 1922-2000," Post-Print halshs-00754107, HAL.
  11. Andrew Leigh, 2007. "How Closely Do Top Income Shares Track Other Measures of Inequality?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(524), pages F619-F633, November.
  12. Roine, Jesper & Waldenstrom, Daniel, 2008. "The evolution of top incomes in an egalitarian society: Sweden, 1903-2004," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(1-2), pages 366-387, February.
  13. 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.
  14. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1967. "Distribution of Income and Wealth Among Individuals," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 238, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  15. Alvaredo, Facundo, 2009. "Top incomes and earnings in Portugal 1936-2005," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 404-417, October.
  16. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax System? A Historical and International Perspective," NBER Working Papers 12404, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Steven N. Kaplan & Joshua Rauh, 2010. "Wall Street and Main Street: What Contributes to the Rise in the Highest Incomes?," NBER Chapters, in: Corporate Governance National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "The evolution of top incomes: a historical and international perspectives," Post-Print halshs-00754642, HAL.
  19. A. L. Bowley, 1914. "The British Super-Tax and the Distribution of Income," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(2), pages 255-268.
  20. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez, 2004. "Top Wealth Shares in the United States: 1916-2000: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 10399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Emmanuel Saez, 2004. "Reported Incomes and Marginal Tax Rates, 1960-2000: Evidence and Policy Implications," NBER Working Papers 10273, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2006. "The Polarization of the U.S. Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 189-194, May.
  23. François Bourguignon & Christian Morrisson, 2002. "Inequality Among World Citizens: 1820-1992," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 727-744, September.
  24. Atkinson, A. B. & Piketty, Thomas (ed.), 2010. "Top Incomes: A Global Perspective," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199286898, December.
  25. Feenberg, D.R. & Poterba, J.M., 1992. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," Working papers 92-16, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  26. Andrew Leigh & Alberto Posso, 2008. "Top Incomes and National Savings," CEPR Discussion Papers 588, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  27. Stefan Bach & Giacomo Corneo & Viktor Steiner, 2008. "Effective Taxation of Top Incomes in Germany, 1992-2002," CESifo Working Paper Series 2233, CESifo Group Munich.
  28. A B Atkinson & Andrew Leigh, 2010. "The Distribution of Top Incomes in Five Anglo-Saxon Countries over the Twentieth Century," CEPR Discussion Papers 640, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  29. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez & Jae Song, 2010. "Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data Since 1937," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(1), pages 91-128.
  30. Chiaki Moriguchi & Emmanuel Saez, 2008. "The Evolution of Income Concentration in Japan, 1886-2005: Evidence from Income Tax Statistics," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 713-734, November.
  31. Philippon, Thomas & Reshef, Ariell, 2009. "Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry: 1909-2006," CEPR Discussion Papers 7282, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  32. Xavier Gabaix, 2009. "Power Laws in Economics and Finance," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 255-294, 05.
  33. Thomas Piketty & Nancy Qian, 2009. "Income Inequality and Progressive Income Taxation in China and India, 1986-2015," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 53-63, April.
  34. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn53-1, September.
  35. Atkinson, A. B. & Piketty, Thomas (ed.), 2007. "Top Incomes Over the Twentieth Century: A Contrast Between Continental European and English-Speaking Countries," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199286881, December.
  36. Jordi Guilera Rafecas, 2008. "Top income shares in Portugal over the twentieth century," Working Papers in Economics 195, Universitat de Barcelona. Espai de Recerca en Economia.
  37. A. B. Atkinson & Andrew Leigh, 2008. "Top Incomes In New Zealand 1921-2005: Understanding The Effects Of Marginal Tax Rates, Migration Threat, And The Macroeconomy," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 54(2), pages 149-165, 06.
  38. Facundo Alvaredo & Emmanuel Saez, 2007. "Income and wealth concentration in Spain in a historical and fiscal perspective," PSE Working Papers halshs-00587714, HAL.
  39. Leigh, Andrew & van der Eng, Pierre, 2009. "Inequality in Indonesia: What can we learn from top incomes?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(1-2), pages 209-212, February.
  40. 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.
  41. Anthony B. Atkinson & Andrew Leigh, 2007. "The Distribution of Top Incomes in Australia," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 83(262), pages 247-261, 09.
  42. Piketty, Thomas & Saez, Emmanuel, 2006. "How Progessive is the US Federal Tax System? An Historical and International Perspective," CEPR Discussion Papers 5778, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  43. Thomas Piketty, 2005. "Top income sares in the long run: An overview," Post-Print halshs-00754094, HAL.
  44. Anthony Atkinson & Thomas Piketty, 2010. "Top Incomes : A Global Perspective," Post-Print halshs-00754875, HAL.
  45. A. B. Atkinson, 2005. "Top incomes in the UK over the 20th century," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 168(2), pages 325-343.
  46. Thomas Piketty, 2003. "Income Inequality in France, 1901-1998," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(5), pages 1004-1042, October.
  47. Emmanuel Saez & Joel B. Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2009. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," NBER Working Papers 15012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  48. Anthony Atkinson & Thomas Piketty, 2007. "Top incomes over the twentieth century: A contrast between continental european and english-speaking countries," Post-Print halshs-00754859, HAL.
  49. Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "The Economics of Superstars," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(5), pages 845-58, December.
  50. 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.
  51. Anthony B. Atkinson & Wiemer Salverda, 2005. "Top Incomes In The Netherlands And The United Kingdom Over The 20th Century," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(4), pages 883-913, 06.
  52. Rufus S. Tucker, 1938. "The Distribution of Income Among Income Taxpayers in the United States, 1863–1935," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 52(4), pages 547-587.
  53. Soltow, Lee C., 1969. "Evidence on Income Inequality in the United States, 1866–1965," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 29(02), pages 279-286, June.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15408. 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: ()

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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link 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 profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

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

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.