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A tale of two Ginis in the US, 1921–2012

Markus Schneider () and Daniele Tavani

International Review of Applied Economics, 2016, vol. 30, issue 6, 677-692

Abstract: Following a methodology by Jantzen and Volpert (2012), we use IRS Adjusted Gross Income data for the US (1921–2012) to estimate two Gini-like indices representing inequality at the bottom and the top of the income distribution, and to calculate the overall Gini as a function of the parameters underlying the two indices. A steady increase in the overall Gini since the Second World War actually hides two different periods of distributional changes. First, the increase in inequality from the mid 1940s to the late 1970s is driven by rising inequality at the bottom of the income distribution that more than offsets a decrease in inequality at the top. The implication is that middle-income earners gained relative to high-incomes, and especially relative to low-income earners. Second, the rise in the Gini after 1981 is driven by rising inequality at the top. Third, top-driven inequality follows a U-shaped trajectory consistent with Piketty and Saez (2003, 2006). Fourth, the welfare effects of the different distributional changes behind increasing inequality can be evaluated in light of the Lorenz-dominance criterion by Atkinson (1970): we argue that the rise in inequality since 1981 is much more likely to be associated with a social welfare loss net of compensating growth.

Date: 2016
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DOI: 10.1080/02692171.2016.1173654

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