INEQUALITY OF WAGE RATES, EARNINGS AND FAMILY INCOME IN THE UNITED STATES, 1975–2002

Authors


  • Note: We thank Darrel Barbatto, Yuanyuan Chen, Petia Petrova, Olga Sorokina and Sisi Zhang for outstanding research assistance. Deborah Reed, participants at the WIDER conference in Helsinki, and anonymous reviewers provided very useful suggestions that improved the paper. This research was supported by funds provided by the Russell Sage Foundation. Peter Gottschalk is Professor of Economics at Boston College. Sheldon Danziger is Henry J. Meyer Collegiate Professor of Public Policy and Co-Director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.

*Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, Boston, MA 02467, USA (gottscha@bc.edu).

Abstract

This paper analyzes distributional changes over the last quarter of the twentieth century. We focus on four distinct distributions: the distribution of hourly wage rates, the distribution of annual earnings of individuals, the distribution of annual earnings of families, and the distribution of total family income adjusted for family size. Both male wage rate inequality and family income inequality accelerated during the early 1980s, increased at a slower rate through the early 1990s and then stabilized at a high level through the early 2000s. The similarity in the timing of changes in these two distributions has been used as evidence that increased family income inequality primarily reflects increased inequality of wage rates. We show that other important factors were also at work.

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