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Inequality in current and lifetime income

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Abstract

Standard theory of intertemporal choice predicts that people smooth out life-cycle changes in income by borrowing and saving, such that their standard of living in any given year depends more on lifetime income than on that year's income. Yet, contemporary empirical studies of income inequality are typically based on observations of income for one or a few years. This empirical simplification is due to the simple fact that researchers seldom have access to data on long-run or lifetime income. In this paper, we exploit a unique data set with nearly career-long income histories to provide novel evidence on inequality in current and lifetime income. We apply these results to assess the role of so-called life-cycle bias in empirical analysis of income inequality that uses current income variables as proxies for lifetime income. Our results suggest that income inequality increases over the working lifespan, and inequality in current income at age 60 is more than twice the inequality in lifetime income. Another key finding is that inequality in lifetime income is much lower than what cross-sectional estimates of inequality suggest. This means that we may need to reconsider how unequal individuals' living standard actually is.

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  • Rolf Aaberge & Magne Mogstad, 2012. "Inequality in current and lifetime income," Discussion Papers 726, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
  • Handle: RePEc:ssb:dispap:726
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    Cited by:

    1. Ive Marx & Brian Nolan & Javier Olivera, 2014. "The Welfare State and Anti-Poverty Policy in Rich Countries," Working Papers 1403, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    2. repec:eee:poleco:v:48:y:2017:i:c:p:104-127 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Elin Halvorsen & Thor Olav Thoresen, 2017. "Distributional Effects of the Wealth Tax under a Lifetime-Dynastic Income Concept," CESifo Working Paper Series 6614, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Alessandro Bucciol & Laura Cavalli & Igor Fedotenkov & Paolo Pertile & Veronica Polin & Nicola Sartor & Alessandro Sommacal, 2015. "Public policies over the life cycle: a large scale OLG model for France, Italy and Sweden," Working Papers 29/2015, University of Verona, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Income inequality; lifetime income; current income; life-cycle;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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