Uncovering the American Dream: Inequality and Mobility in Social Security Earnings Data Since 1937

86 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2007 Last revised: 11 Nov 2013

See all articles by Wojciech Kopczuk

Wojciech Kopczuk

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences - Department of Economics; Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Emmanuel Saez

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jae Song

U.S. Social Security Administration

Date Written: August 2007

Abstract

This paper uses Social Security Administration longitudinal earnings micro data since 1937 to analyze the evolution of inequality and mobility in the United States. Earnings inequality follows a U-shape pattern, decreasing sharply up to 1953 and increasing steadily afterwards. We find that short-term and long-term (rank based) mobility among all workers has been quite stable since 1950 (after a temporary surge during World War II). Therefore, the pattern of annual earnings inequality is very close to the pattern of inequality of longer term earnings. Mobility at the top has also been very stable and has not mitigated the dramatic increase in annual earnings concentration since the 1970s. However, the stability in long-term earnings mobility among all workers masks substantial heterogeneity across demographic groups. The decrease in the gender earnings gap and the substantial increase in upward mobility over a career for women is the driving force behind the relative stability of overall mobility measures which mask declines in mobility among men. In contrast, overall inequality and mobility patterns are not significantly influenced by the changing size and structure of immigration nor by changes in the black/white earnings gaps.

Suggested Citation

Kopczuk, Wojciech and Saez, Emmanuel and Song, Jae, Uncovering the American Dream: Inequality and Mobility in Social Security Earnings Data Since 1937 (August 2007). NBER Working Paper No. w13345. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1009795

Wojciech Kopczuk (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences - Department of Economics ( email )

420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA)

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Emmanuel Saez

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
510-642-4631 (Phone)
510-642-6615 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jae Song

U.S. Social Security Administration ( email )

Washington, DC 20254
United States
202-358-6403 (Phone)
202-358-6192 (Fax)

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