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
Why Status Matters for Inequality Cecilia L. Ridgeway

Why Status Matters for Inequality

Author: Cecilia L. Ridgeway
Publisher: Sage Publications
Date: 01/2014

To understand the mechanisms behind social inequality, this address argues that we need to more thoroughly incorporate the effects of status—inequality based on differences in esteem and respect—alongside those based on resources and power. As a micro motive for behavior, status is as significant as money and power. At a macro level, status stabilizes resource and power inequality by transforming it into cultural status beliefs about group differences regarding who is “better” (esteemed and competent). But cultural status beliefs about which groups are “better” constitute group differences as independent dimensions of inequality that generate material advantages due to group membership itself. Acting through micro- level social relations in workplaces, schools, and elsewhere, status beliefs bias evaluations of competence and suitability for authority, bias associational preferences, and evoke resistance to status challenges from low-status group members. These effects accumulate to direct members of higher status groups toward positions of resources and power while holding back lower status group members. Through these processes, status writes group differences such as gender, race, and class-based life style into organizational structures of resources and power, creating durable inequality. Status is thus a central mechanism behind durable patterns of inequality based on social differences. 

Consumption and the Great Recession Luigi Pistaferri, Ivaylo Petev

Consumption and the Great Recession

Author: Luigi Pistaferri, Ivaylo Petev
Publisher:
Date: 10/2012

The particular trauma of severe downturns is that declining consumer spending, itself a reaction to the economy's contraction, also undermines the prospects for recovery. Consumption is, in other words, a fundamental determinant of business cycles - a kind of litmus test of economic health. But it's not just an important determinant of future economic performance. We also look to consumption as an omnibus measure of the set of socioeconomic conditions that underlie consumer behavior, such as job opportunities, price fluctuations, access to credit, and financial security. In this recession brief, we offer an interpretation of recent consumption data in order to determine the extent of the economic damage and its unequal distribution across the American populace.

Family, the Lifecourse, and the Great Recession S. Philip Morgan, Erin Cumberworth, Christopher Wimer

Family, the Lifecourse, and the Great Recession

Author: S. Philip Morgan, Erin Cumberworth, Christopher Wimer
Publisher:
Date: 10/2012

The family is an important setting within which the Great Recession can exert its influence. Although the downturn directly affected many workers by reducing their earnings or forcing them into unemployment, it affected others indirectly by changing their living arrangements or family life. Further, the ways in which families are formed or broken up may be affected by the Great Recession, as it can alter the perceived costs and benefits of various family-relevant behaviors. Amid the turmoil and economic upheaval in the wider economy, individuals and families go about their lives, deciding to get married, suffering through breakups and divorces, planning families, and sorting out their living arrangements. The recession could have major effects on all of these family processes.

Income, Wealth and Debt and the Great Recession Timothy Smeeding

Income, Wealth and Debt and the Great Recession

Author: Timothy Smeeding
Publisher:
Date: 10/2012

The Great Depression is often cast as the beginning of the end for the late Gilded Age. Because it brought on the institutional reforms of the New Deal, it led to dramatic reductions in income inequality and set the stage for a long period of comparatively low inequality. The purpose of this recession brief is to ask whether the Great Recession, like the Great Depression, is likewise shaping up as a compressive event that will reverse some of the run-up in inequality of the so-called New Gilded Age. This question can be taken on by examining recent and long-term trends in wealth inequality, income inequality, median incomes, and debt.

The Labor Force and the Great Recession Michael Hout, Erin Cumberworth

The Labor Force and the Great Recession

Author: Michael Hout, Erin Cumberworth
Publisher:
Date: 10/2012

The Great Recession and the slow recovery since have been the longest economic slump in seventy years. It affected vulnerable populations more than others. In this brief, our aim is to put this disaster into historical context, looking first at the overall state of the labor market and then at how the economic harm has been distributed across the population by gender, level of education, and race and ethnicity.

income and wealth - CPI Affiliates

Karl Ulrich Mayer's picture Karl Ulrich Mayer Stanley B. Resor Professor Emeritus of Sociology; Professor, Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS); Director Emeritus, Max Planck Institute of Human Development
Yale University
Carlos-Antonio-Costa Ribeiro's picture Carlos-Antonio-Costa Ribeiro Professor of Sociology; member of the Interdisciplinary Nucleus of Inequality Studies
Intituto Universitario de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro
Steven J. Davis's picture Steven J. Davis William H. Abbott Professor of International Business and Economics; Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research
The University of Chicago
Kazuo Yamaguchi's picture Kazuo Yamaguchi Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology; Affiliated Faculty, The Center for East Asian Studies
University of Chicago
David H. Autor Ford Professor of Economics, Director of National Bureau of Economic Research Disability Research Center; Co-director of the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Pages

Income And Wealth - Other Research

Title Author Media
"Fair” Inequality? Attitudes to Pay Differentials: The United States in Comparative Perspective Lars Osberg, Timothy Smeeding

"Fair” Inequality? Attitudes to Pay Differentials: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Author: Lars Osberg, Timothy Smeeding
Publisher: American Sociological Review
Date: 06/2006
Wealth Concentration in a Developing Economy: Paris and France, 1807-1994 Piketty, Thomas, Gilles Postel-Vinay, Jean Laurent Rosenthal

Wealth Concentration in a Developing Economy: Paris and France, 1807-1994

Author: Piketty, Thomas, Gilles Postel-Vinay, Jean Laurent Rosenthal
Publisher: American Economic Review
Date: 03/2006
Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses Frank, Robert H.

Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses

Author: Frank, Robert H.
Publisher: American Economic Review
Date: 01/2005
Flexible Firms and Labor Market Segmentation: Effects of Workplace Restructuring on Jobs and Workers Arne. L. Kalleberg

Flexible Firms and Labor Market Segmentation: Effects of Workplace Restructuring on Jobs and Workers

Author: Arne. L. Kalleberg
Publisher: Work and Occupations
Date: 05/2003
Skill-Biased Technological Change and Wage Inequality: Evidence from a Plant Retooling Roberto M. Fernandez

Skill-Biased Technological Change and Wage Inequality: Evidence from a Plant Retooling

Author: Roberto M. Fernandez
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date: 02/2001

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