Trends in Long-Run versus Cross-Section Inequality in the 1970s and 1980s

by Jeremy Arkes

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This paper uses the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to assess the changes in earnings mobility and to compare the changes in cross-section and long-run inequality in the 1970s and 1980s. Previous inequality studies have primarily used measures of cross-section inequality. However, long-run inequality depends not only on cross-section inequality, but also on the degree of earnings mobility, which equalizes earnings over time. The author finds that earnings mobility increased during the 1970s, but fell during the 1980s. Consistent with this result, the increase in cross-section inequality overstated the true increase during the 1970s, but understated the true increase in inequality during the 1980s.

Originally published in: Review of Income and Wealth, series 44, no. 2, June 1998, pp. 199-213.

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