Findings

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Kevin Lewis

December 16, 2009

Art and Money

William Goetzmann, Luc Renneboog & Christophe Spaenjers
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
This paper investigates the impact of equity markets and top incomes on art prices. Using a long-term art market index that incorporates information on repeated sales since the eighteenth century, we demonstrate that both same-year and lagged equity market returns have a significant impact on the price level in the art market. Over a shorter time frame, we also find empirical evidence that an increase in income inequality may lead to higher prices for art, in line with the results of a numerical simulation analysis. Finally, the results of Johansen cointegration tests strongly suggest the existence of a long-term relation between top incomes and art prices.

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The Rising Instability of U.S. Earnings

Peter Gottschalk & Robert Moffitt
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2009, Pages 3-24

Abstract:
The inequality of earnings and of family incomes in the United States has increased since the late 1970s. The large rise in earnings inequality between the 1970s and the 1990s could reflect either a rise in disparity of permanent incomes, a rise in earnings instability, or some portion of both. In this paper, we provide longitudinal measures that separate changes in income inequality into changes that permanently change income to new levels and those that only reflect transitory change. We refer to the latter as changes in "income instability" and discuss how the instability of individual earnings and family income in the United States has evolved -- as a whole as well as for different types of individuals and families -- over the last quarter century. We consider alternative definitions of instability that have been proposed, and establish that all studies find that instability is considerably higher today than in the mid-1970s. This increase in instability is not a recent phenomenon. Earnings instability rose sharply in the late 1970s and early 1980s, then stabilized at these high levels through the recent period, although it may be increasing once again. We also discuss the factors that may be driving this increase in instability.

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Family income at the bottom and at the top: Income sources and family characteristics

Lawrence Raffalovich, Shannon Monnat & Hui-shien Tsao
Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, December 2009, Pages 301-309

Abstract:
Attention has recently been focused on wealth as a source of long-term economic security and on wealth ownership as a crucial aspect of the racial economic divisions in the United States. This literature, however has been concerned primarily with the wealth gap between poor and middle-class families, and between the white and black middle class. In this paper, we investigate the incomes of families at the top and bottom of the family income distribution. We examine the sources of income and the demographic characteristics of these high-income and low-income families using family level data from the 1988 to 2003 Current Population Surveys. We find that, at the bottom of the distribution, transfer income is the major income source; in particular, income from social security, supplemental security, and public assistance. At the top, employment income is the largest component of family income. Non-white, female, and non-married householders are disproportionately located at the bottom of the family income distribution. These families consist of both young and old adults, with high-school educations or less, in low-level service occupations. Many are disabled, many are retired. Householders at the top of the income distribution are typically male, white, and married. Householders and spouses at the top are typically middle-age, with college educations, employed in professional service and managerial occupations. We find that wealth is not an important source of income for families at the highest percentiles. The highest income families during this period in the U.S. were not a "property elite": their income is mostly from employment. We speculate, however, that they will join the "property elite" later in the life-course as they retire and receive income from their investments.

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Parametric Estimations of the World Distribution of Income

Maxim Pinkovskiy & Xavier Sala-i-Martin
NBER Working Paper, October 2009

Abstract:
We use a parametric method to estimate the income distribution for 191 countries between 1970 and 2006. We estimate the World Distribution of Income and estimate poverty rates, poverty counts and various measures of income inequality and welfare. Using the official $1/day line, we estimate that world poverty rates have fallen by 80% from 0.268 in 1970 to 0.054 in 2006. The corresponding total number of poor has fallen from 403 million in 1970 to 152 million in 2006. Our estimates of the global poverty count in 2006 are much smaller than found by other researchers. We also find similar reductions in poverty if we use other poverty lines. We find that various measures of global inequality have declined substantially and measures of global welfare increased by somewhere between 128% and 145%. We analyze poverty in various regions. Finally, we show that our results are robust to a battery of sensitivity tests involving functional forms, data sources for the largest countries, methods of interpolating and extrapolating missing data, and dealing with survey misreporting.

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Unequal we stand: An empirical analysis of economic inequality in the United States, 1967-2006

Jonathan Heathcote, Fabrizio Perri & Giovanni Violante
Review of Economic Dynamics, forthcoming

Abstract:
We conduct a systematic empirical study of cross-sectional inequality in the United States, integrating data from the Current Population Survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Consumer Expenditure Survey, and the Survey of Consumer Finances. In order to understand how different dimensions of inequality are related via choices, markets, and institutions, we follow the mapping suggested by the household budget constraint from individual wages to individual earnings, to household earnings, to disposable income, and, ultimately, to consumption and wealth. We document a continuous and sizable increase in wage inequality over the sample period. Changes in the distribution of hours worked sharpen the rise in earnings inequality before 1982, but mitigate its increase thereafter. Taxes and transfers compress the level of income inequality, especially at the bottom of the distribution, but have little effect on the overall trend. Finally, access to financial markets has limited both the level and growth of consumption inequality.

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Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and the Dynamics of Inequality in Small-Scale Societies

Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Samuel Bowles, Tom Hertz, Adrian Bell, Jan Beise, Greg Clark, Ila Fazzio, Michael Gurven, Kim Hill, Paul Hooper, William Irons, Hillard Kaplan, Donna Leonetti, Bobbi Low, Frank Marlowe, Richard McElreath, Suresh Naidu, David Nolin, Patrizio Piraino, Rob Quinlan, Eric Schniter, Rebecca Sear, Mary Shenk, Eric Alden Smith, Christopher von Rueden & Polly Wiessner
Science, 30 October 2009, Pages 682-688

Abstract:
Small-scale human societies range from foraging bands with a strong egalitarian ethos to more economically stratified agrarian and pastoral societies. We explain this variation in inequality using a dynamic model in which a population's long-run steady-state level of inequality depends on the extent to which its most important forms of wealth are transmitted within families across generations. We estimate the degree of intergenerational transmission of three different types of wealth (material, embodied, and relational), as well as the extent of wealth inequality in 21 historical and contemporary populations. We show that intergenerational transmission of wealth and wealth inequality are substantial among pastoral and small-scale agricultural societies (on a par with or even exceeding the most unequal modern industrial economies) but are limited among horticultural and foraging peoples (equivalent to the most egalitarian of modern industrial populations). Differences in the technology by which a people derive their livelihood and in the institutions and norms making up the economic system jointly contribute to this pattern.

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Enrollment at Highly Selective Private Colleges: Who Is Left Behind?

Hashem Dezhbakhsh & John Karikari
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming

Abstract:
This study examines the enrollment decisions of freshmen applicants to highly selective private colleges relative to highly selective public colleges. The empirical analysis shows that college enrollment varies by family income - in particular, low-income students with demonstrated financial need are less likely to enroll at private colleges, controlling for other factors including race and financial aid. Grant aid tends to have a moderating effect but the amount of aid under the existing college pricing and financial aid system appears to be inadequate. This finding provides support for recent revamping of financial aid offerings to low-income students by some highly selective private colleges. In addition, the results suggest that while family income appears to be a strong determinant of enrollment at these colleges, race does not seem to play a role.

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The Level and Distribution of Global Household Wealth

James Davies, Susanna Sandström, Anthony Shorrocks & Edward Wolff
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
We estimate the level and distribution of global household wealth. The levels of assets and debts for 39 countries are measured using household balance sheet and survey data centred on the year 2000. The determinants of mean financial assets, non-financial assets, and liabilities are studied empirically, and the results used to estimate average wealth holdings for countries lacking direct evidence. Data on the pattern of household distribution of wealth are assembled for 20 countries, which together account for 59 per cent of the global population and 75 per cent of global wealth. The observed relation between wealth and income distribution in these 20 countries allows estimates of wealth inequality to be produced for many other nations. Combining the figures for individual countries reveals that net worth averaged US$44,024 per adult in PPP terms across the globe. Wealth of US$8,635 was needed to be in the top half of the global distribution, and US$518,364 to be in the top one per cent. The top 10 per cent owned 71 per cent of world wealth, and the Gini coefficient for the global distribution of wealth is estimated to be 0.802, indicating greater inequality than that observed in the global distribution of consumption or income.
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The relationship between corruption and income inequality in U.S. states: Evidence from a panel cointegration and error correction model

Nicholas Apergis, Oguzhan Dincer & James Payne
Public Choice, forthcoming

Abstract:
We investigate the causality between corruption and income inequality within a multivariate framework using a panel data set of all 50 U.S. states over the period 1980 to 2004. The heterogeneous panel cointegration test by Pedroni (Oxf. Bull. Econ. Stat. 61:653-670, 1999; Econom. Theory 20:597-627, 2004) indicates that in the long run corruption and the unemployment rate have a positive and statistically significant impact on income inequality while a negative impact is found for real personal income per capita, education, and unionization rate. The Granger-causality results associated with a panel vector error correction model indicate both short-run and long-run bidirectional causality between corruption and income inequality.

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Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence

Guy Mayraz, Gert Wagner & Juergen Schupp
London School of Economics Working Paper, September 2009

Abstract:
Using a unique dataset we study both the actual and self-perceived relationship between subjective well-being and income comparisons against a wide range of potential comparison groups, enabling us to investigate a broader range of questions than in previous studies. In questions inserted into a 2008 module of the German-Socio Economic Panel Study we ask subjects to report (a) how their income compares to various groups, such a co-workers, friends, and neighbours, and (b) how important these income comparisons are to them. We find substantial gender differences, with income comparisons being much better predictors of subjective well-being in men than in women. Generic (same-gender) comparisons are the most important, followed by within profession comparisons. Once generic and within-profession comparisons are controlled for, income relative to neighbours has a negative coefficient, implying that living in a high-income neighbourhood increases happiness. The perceived importance of income comparisons is found to be uncorrelated with its actual relationship to subjective well-being, suggesting that people are unconscious of its real impact. Subjects who judge comparisons to be important are, however, significantly less happy than subjects who see income comparisons as unimportant. Finally, the marginal effect of relative income on subjective well-being does not depend on whether a subject is below or above the reference group income.

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Should Continued Family Firms Face Lower Taxes Than Other Estates?

Volker Grossmann & Holger Strulik
Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
Taxes on estates and inheritances may induce heirs to discontinue family firms. Because firm dissolution incurs transaction costs, a preferential tax treatment of transferred family businesses seems to be desirable from a macroeconomic viewpoint. The support of dynastic succession, however, entails also a cost on the economy if firm continuation by less able heirs prevents entry into entrepreneurship. Here, we investigate analytically and quantitatively the trade-off between transaction costs saved and creative destruction prevented. We find that a unique general equilibrium exists at which, depending on the institutional setup, low-ability heirs either abandon (Type 1) or continue (Type 2) a family business. A calibration of the model with German data suggests that preferential tax treatment of family firms has severe negative consequences on macroeconomic performance if it causes a threshold crossing from Type 1 to Type 2 equilibrium. It also reveals that the descendants of less able entrepreneurs who were caused by continuation-friendly tax policy to keep a family business always lose relative to their status in an economy without such a policy.

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Taxation of Human Capital and Wage Inequality: A Cross-Country Analysis

Fatih Guvenen, Burhanettin Kuruscu & Serdar Ozkan
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

Abstract:
Wage inequality has been significantly higher in the United States than in continental European countries (CEU) since the 1970s. Moreover, this inequality gap has further widened during this period as the US has experienced a large increase in wage inequality, whereas the CEU has seen only modest changes. This paper studies the role of labor income tax policies for understanding these facts. We begin by documenting two new empirical facts that link these inequality differences to tax policies. First, we show that countries with more progressive labor income tax schedules have significantly lower before-tax wage inequality at different points in time. Second, progressivity is also negatively correlated with the rise in wage inequality during this period. We then construct a life cycle model in which individuals decide each period whether to go to school, work, or be unemployed. Individuals can accumulate skills either in school or while working. Wage inequality arises from differences across individuals in their ability to learn new skills as well as from idiosyncratic shocks. Progressive taxation compresses the (after-tax) wage structure, thereby distorting the incentives to accumulate human capital, in turn reducing the cross-sectional dispersion of (before-tax) wages. We find that these policies can account for half of the difference between the US and the CEU in overall wage inequality and 76% of the difference in inequality at the upper end (log 90-50 differential). When this economy experiences skill-biased technological change, progressivity also dampens the rise in wage dispersion over time. The model explains 41% of the difference in the total rise in inequality and 58% of the difference at the upper end.

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Why Some Rural Places Prosper and Others Do Not

Andrew Isserman, Edward Feser & Drake Warren
International Regional Science Review, July 2009, Pages 300-342

Abstract:
More than 300 rural counties are more prosperous than the nation. Each has lower unemployment rates, lower poverty rates, lower school dropout rates, and better housing conditions than the nation. Prosperous counties tend to have more educated populations, more diverse economies, more private non-farm jobs, more farmers and government farm payments, more creative class occupations, and more equal income distributions. They have fewer African-American, American Indian, or Hispanic residents and fewer recent immigrants. Some findings support what many rural people believe to be true: civically engaged religious groups and other identities that bind people together can really matter. Other results contradict conventional wisdom. For instance, climate and distances to cities and major airports, are relatively unimportant. Focusing on prosperity, instead of growth or competitiveness, provides new insights into rural conditions and prospects.


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