Income and Wealth Inequality

  • Nicholas Bloom
  • Raj Chetty
  • Emmanuel Saez

Leaders: Nicholas Bloom, Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez

The CPI is home to some of the country’s most influential analyses of the income and wealth distribution. The purpose of the Income and Wealth RG is to monitor the ongoing takeoff in income inequality, to better understand its sources, and to analyze its implications for labor market performance, educational attainment, mobility, and more. The following is a sampling of the CPI’s research projects within this area.

Trends in income and wealth inequality: What are the key trends in U.S. income and wealth inequality? The U.S. increasingly looks to Emmanuel Saez and his research team for the latest data on U.S. economic inequality.

Distributional National Accounts: In an ambitious infrastructural project, Emmanuel Saez and his team are building a “Distributional National Accounts” based on tax returns, a data set that will eliminate the current gap between (a) national accounts data based on economic aggregates and (b) inequality analysis that uses micro-level tax data to examine the distribution of income but is not consistent with national aggregates. This new data set will in turn make it possible to evaluate the extent to which economic growth, which has long been represented as a preferred poverty-reduction approach, is indeed delivering on that objective.

The rise of between-firm inequality: How much of the rise in earnings inequality can be attributed to increasing between-firm dispersion in the average wages they pay? This question can be addressed by constructing a matched employer-employee data set for the United States using administrative records.

Rent and inequality: It is increasingly fashionable to argue that “rent” accounts for much of the takeoff in income inequality. The Current Population Survey can be used to assess whether this claim is on the mark. 

Income And Wealth - CPI Research

Title Author Media
Intergenerational Mobility and Gender in Mexico Florencia Torche

Intergenerational Mobility and Gender in Mexico

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: Social Forces
Date: 12/2015

This article studies intergenerational socioeconomic mobility in Mexico comparing men and women. In contrast to most sociological work that uses individual-level measures to proxy family socioeconomic status, we use a direct measure of family living standards for both generations, based on an index of economic well-being. Strong intergenerational persistence is found in Mexico compared to other countries. Persistence is stronger for men than women, particularly among advantaged families. The role of education in the mobility process is examined. Findings indicate that “excess immobility” of men is not mediated by education. Wider gender differences among married/cohabiting than single respondents suggests parents are more likely to transfer socioeconomic resources to their married sons than married daughters. We argue for the advantages of measuring socioeconomic status directly at the household level, and of evaluating gender differences to gain insight about mobility mechanisms.

Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity Florencia Torche

Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: European Journal of Sociology
Date: 12/2015

Intergenerational mobility—the association between parents’ and adult children’s economic wellbeing—is an important sociological concept because it provides information about inequality of opportunity in society, and it has gained relevance in the recent past due to the increase economic inequality in most of the affluent world. This article provides an overview of the different measures of mobility used by sociologists and economists, as well as main empirical findings about mobility. I then move to topics that push mobility analysis beyond its bivariate focus: The association between intergenerational mobility and economic inequality, the mechanisms for mobility, and the validity of mobility as a measure of inequality of opportunity. I suggest that the association between mobility and inequality is likely spurious, driven by varying institutional arrangements across countries, and that mobility analysis is most useful when focused on describing the bivariate intergenerational association across countries and over time.

Severe Deprivation in America: An Introduction Matthew Desmond

Severe Deprivation in America: An Introduction

Author: Matthew Desmond
Publisher: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences
Date: 11/2015

Poverty researchers from across the social sciences have the opportunity to reach collectively toward a new paradigm—not just a new way of thinking but a whole different approach to the study of vulnerability, violence, and marginality, one that carries methodological, policy-relevant, and normative implications. Most research is rooted in theories now a few decades old. These theories have stood the test of time because they are incisive, sweeping, and validated. But they also were developed before the United States began incarcerating more of its citizens than any other nation; before urban rents soared and poor families began dedicating the majority of their income to housing; before welfare reform caused caseloads to plummet; and before the crack epidemic tore apart poor minority communities. In recent years, the very nature of poverty in America has changed, especially at the very bottom. A new poverty agenda is needed for a world that is itself quite new.

Housing Tax and Transfer Programs Decrease Inequality Gregory Acs, Paul Johnson

Housing Tax and Transfer Programs Decrease Inequality

Author: Gregory Acs, Paul Johnson
Publisher: The Urban Institute
Date: 08/2015

We examine the relationships between housing subsidies, the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions, and income inequality and find that housing subsidies to low-income families reduce income inequality while the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions increase it. On net, the distribution of post-tax, post-transfer income is slightly more equal than it would be in the absence of these three programs.

Neighborhood Income Composition by Race and Income, 1990-2009 Sean F. Reardon, Joseph Townsend, Lindsay Fox

Neighborhood Income Composition by Race and Income, 1990-2009

Author: Sean F. Reardon, Joseph Townsend, Lindsay Fox
Publisher:
Date: 07/2015

Residential segregation, by definition, leads to racial and socioeconomic disparities in neighborhood conditions. These disparities may in turn produce inequality in social and economic opportunities and outcomes. Because racial and socioeconomic segregation are not independent of one another, however, any analysis of their causes, patterns, and effects must rest on an understanding of the joint distribution of race/ethnicity and income among neighborhoods. In this paper, we use a new technique to describe the average racial composition and income distributions in the neighborhoods of households of different income levels and race/ethnicity. Using data from the decennial censuses and the American Community Survey, we investigate how patterns of neighborhood context in the United States over the past two decades vary by household race/ethnicity, income, and metropolitan area. We find large and persistent racial differences in neighborhood context, even among households of the same annual income.

Income And Wealth - CPI Affiliates

Donald J. Treiman Distinguished Professor University of California , Los Angeles
Donald Tomaskov... Professor University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Duane Alwin McCourtney Professor of Sociology and Demography; Director, Center on Population Health and Aging Pennsylvania State University
Edward B. Montgomery Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences; Research Associate, National Bureau for Economic Research University of Maryland
Eli Berman Associate Professor of Economics and Research Director for International Security Studies at the Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation; Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research University of California, San Diego

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Income And Wealth - Other Research

Title Author Media
Wealth Levels, Wealth Inequality, and the Great Recession Fabian T. Pfeffer, Sheldon Danziger, Robert F. Schoeni

Wealth Levels, Wealth Inequality, and the Great Recession

Author: Fabian T. Pfeffer, Sheldon Danziger, Robert F. Schoeni
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Date: 05/2014

This research brief assesses two questions about the extent to which the Great Recession altered the level and distribution of wealth through 2013--the most recent year of data available on wealth held by American families. 1. By how much did wealth levels decline during the Great Recession, and by how much did they recover through 2013? 2. Did wealth inequality increase, decrease, or remain steady during the Great Recession?

Overwork and the Slow Convergence in the Gender Gap in Wages Youngjoo Cha, Kim A. Weeden

Overwork and the Slow Convergence in the Gender Gap in Wages

Author: Youngjoo Cha, Kim A. Weeden
Publisher: American Sociological Review
Date: 04/2014

Despite rapid changes in women’s educational attainment and continuous labor force experience, convergence in the gender gap in wages slowed in the 1990s and stalled in the 2000s. Using CPS data from 1979 to 2009, we show that convergence in the gender gap in hourly pay over these three decades was attenuated by the increasing prevalence of “overwork” (defined as working 50 or more hours per week) and the rising hourly wage returns to overwork. Because a greater proportion of men engage in overwork, these changes raised men’s wages relative to women’s and exacerbated the gender wage gap by an estimated 10 percent of the total wage gap. This overwork effect was sufficiently large to offset the wage-equalizing effects of the narrowing gender gap in educational attainment and other forms of human capital. The overwork effect on trends in the gender gap in wages was most pronounced in professional and managerial occupations, where long work hours are especially common and the norm of overwork is deeply embedded in organizational practices and occupational cultures. These results illustrate how new ways of organizing work can perpetuate old forms of gender inequality.

The Impact of Earnings Disregards on the Behavior of Low-Income Families Jordan D. Matsudaira, Rebecca M. Blank

The Impact of Earnings Disregards on the Behavior of Low-Income Families

Author: Jordan D. Matsudaira, Rebecca M. Blank
Publisher: Journal of Policy Analysis and Management
Date: 01/2014

This paper investigates the impact of changes in earnings disregards for welfare assistance received by single mothers following welfare reform in 1996. Some states adopted much higher earnings disregards (women could work full-time and still receive substantial welfare benefits), while other states did not. We explore the effect of these changes on women's labor supply and income using several data sources and multiple estimation strategies. Our results indicate these changes had little effect on labor supply or income. We show this is because surprisingly few women used the earnings disregards. We discuss several explanations for why this might occur.

Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools Peter W. Cookson, Jr.

Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools

Author: Peter W. Cookson, Jr.
Publisher: Teachers College Press: Multicultural Education Series
Date: 08/2013

Class Rules challenges the popular myth that high schools are the “Great Equalizers.” In his groundbreaking study, Cookson demonstrates that adolescents undergo different class rites of passage depending on the social-class composition of the high school they attend. Drawing on stories of schools and individual students, the author shows that where a student goes to high school is a major influence on his or her social class trajectory. Class Rules is a penetrating, original examination of the role education plays in blocking upward mobility for many children. It offers a compelling vision of an equitable system of schools based on the full democratic rights of students.

Consumption and Income Inequality and the Great Recession Bruce D. Meyer , James X. Sullivan

Consumption and Income Inequality and the Great Recession

Author: Bruce D. Meyer , James X. Sullivan
Publisher: American Economic Review
Date: 05/2013

We examine changes in consumption and income inequality between 2000 and 2011. During the most recent recession, unemployment rose and asset values declined sharply. We investigate how the recession affected inequality while addressing concerns about underreporting in consumption data. Income inequality rose throughout the period from 2000 to 2011. The 90/10 ratio was 19 percent higher at the end of this period than at the beginning. In contrast, consumption inequality rose during the first half of this period but then fell after 2005. By 2011, the 90/10 ratio for consumption was slightly lower than it was in 2000.

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