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Has Consumption Inequality Mirrored Income Inequality?

  • Mark A. Aguiar
  • Mark Bils

We revisit to what extent the increase in income inequality over the last 30 years has been mirrored by consumption inequality. We do so by constructing two alternative measures of consumption expenditure, using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE). We first use reports of active savings and after tax income to construct the measure of consumption implied by the budget constraint. We find that the consumption inequality implied by savings behavior largely tracks income inequality between 1980 and 2007. Second, we use a demand system to correct for systematic measurement error in the CE's expenditure data. Specifically, we consider trends in the relative expenditure of high income and low income households for different goods with different income (total expenditure) elasticities. Our estimation exploits the difference in the growth rate of luxury consumption inequality versus necessity consumption inequality. This "double-differencing,'' which we implement in a a regression framework, corrects for mis-measurement that can systematically vary over time by good and income group. This second exercise indicates that consumption inequality has closely tracked income inequality over the period 1980-2007. Both of our measures show a significantly greater increase in consumption inequality than what is obtained from the CE's total household expenditure data directly.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16807.

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Date of creation: Feb 2011
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16807
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  1. Heathcote, Jonathan & Storesletten, Kjetil & Violante, Giovanni L, 2004. "Two Views of Inequality Over the Life-Cycle," CEPR Discussion Papers 4728, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Fatih Guvenen, 2006. "Learning your earning: are labor income shocks really very persistent?," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 145, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  3. Kjetil Storesletten & Chris Telmer & Amir Yaron, 1997. "Consumption and risk sharing over the life cycle," GSIA Working Papers 228, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  4. Richard Blundell & Luigi Pistaferri & Ian Preston, 2004. "Consumption inequality and partial insurance," IFS Working Papers W04/28, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  5. 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.
  6. Richard Blundell & Ian Preston, 1998. "Consumption Inequality And Income Uncertainty," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(2), pages 603-640, May.
  7. Krueger, Dirk & Perri, Fabrizio & Pistaferri, Luigi & Violante, Giovanni L, 2009. "Cross Sectional Facts for Macroeconomists," CEPR Discussion Papers 7582, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "Five Decades of Consumption and Income Poverty," Working Papers 0907, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  9. Mark Huggett & Gustavo Ventura & Amir Yaron, 2007. "Sources of Lifetime Inequality," Working Papers gueconwpa~07-07-04, Georgetown University, Department of Economics.
  10. 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.
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