The Distribution of Income and Wealth
Economic inequality has been a prominent and perennial concern in economics and public policy. The rise in inequality that occurred during the 1970s and early 1980s stimulated interest in the study of its causes and consequences. Experience from the 1990s suggests that economic growth and prosperity no longer dramatically reduce economic inequality. The persistent inequalities within nations and across nations raise several key issues that demand scholarship and innovative policies to aid in their resolution.
Recognizing this, the Levy Institute has maintained, since its inception, an active research program on the distribution of earnings, income, and wealth. Research in this area includes studies on the economic well-being of the elderly, public and private pensions, well-being over the life course, the role of assets in economic well-being, and the determinants of the accumulation of wealth.
It is widely recognized that existing official measures of economic well-being need to be improved in order to generate accurate cross-sectional and intertemporal comparisons. The picture of economic well-being can vary significantly depending on the measure used. Alternative measures are also crucially important for the formulation and evaluation of a wide variety of social and economic policies. The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being and related research is aimed at bridging this gap.
Working Paper No. 955 | May 2020
Evidence from West Bank SchoolsThis study uses rich administrative and survey data to investigate the effects of class size on students’ cognitive tests as well as bullying and violent behavior. I use the maximum class size rule to create a regression discontinuity (RD) relation between cohort enrollment size and class size in the public and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school system in the West Bank. In addition, I provide evidence that there is no violation of the RD assumptions resulting from discontinuities in the relationship between enrollment and students’ household background at cutoff points induced by a maximum class size rule. The main findings suggest that class size has no direct impact on students’ cognitive skills except for those in grade six. However, class size reduction improves the quality of life for children by mitigating the bullying and violent behavior among pupils that may negatively affect their achievements. Finally, I point to peer relations and mental health problems as a potential mechanism through which class size affects children’s self-reported bullying–victim instances and violent behavior.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Press Releases | May 2020
Working Paper No. 954 | April 2020
A Microeconometric AnalysisThis paper examines whether relative income and income inequality within reference groups affect household consumption. Using the explanations of consumption behavior based on Dusenberry’s relative income hypothesis, we test if household consumption levels in Turkey are affected by the household’s relative position and inequality in the reference group between 2005–12 by employing cross-sectional household-level data. We find that household consumption is negatively related to the relative income indicator after controlling for absolute income, and positively related to the income inequality of the reference group, as the literature suggests. The paper also shows that household indebtedness has a positive impact on household consumption when inequality in the reference group and the relative position of households are controlled for. We confirm that the results are not sensitive to chosen relative income indicators and income inequality.
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Public Policy Brief No. 149 | April 2020The costs of the COVID-19 pandemic—in terms of both the health risks and economic burdens—will be borne disproportionately by the most vulnerable segments of US society. In this public policy brief, Luiza Nassif-Pires, Laura de Lima Xavier, Thomas Masterson, Michalis Nikiforos, and Fernando Rios-Avila demonstrate that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to widen already-worrisome levels of income, racial, and gender inequality in the United States. Minority and low-income populations are more likely to develop severe infections that can lead to hospitalization and death due to COVID-19; they are also more likely to experience job losses and declines in their well-being.
The authors argue that our policy response to the COVID-19 crisis must target these unequally shared burdens—and that a failure to mitigate the regressive impact of the crisis will not only be unjust, it will prolong the pandemic and undermine any ensuing economic recovery efforts. As the authors note, we are in danger of falling victim to a vicious cycle: the pandemic and economic lockdown will worsen inequality; and these inequalities exacerbate the spread of the virus, not to mention further weaken the structure of the US economy.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 930 | May 2019This paper describes the application of a semiparametric approach, known as a varying coefficients model (Hastie and Tibshirani 1993), to implement a Oaxaca-Blinder type of decomposition in the presence of self-selection into treatment groups for a continuum of comparison groups. The flexibility of this methodology may allow for detecting heterogeneity of the role of endowment and coefficient effects when analyzing endogenous dose treatments. The methodology is then used to revisit the impact of obesity on wages (Cawley 2004), using body mass index (BMI) as the continuous group variable. The results suggest that body weight does have a negative impact on wages for white women, but the impact decreases for higher BMI levels. For white men, the impact is also negative and significant, but positive for low levels of BMI, which explains why they are not significant in the linear instrumental variables approach.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 928 | May 2019In the Western interpretation of democracy, governments exist in order to manage relations of property, with absence of property ownership leading to exclusion from participation in governance and, in many cases, absence of equal treatment before the law. Democratizing money will therefore ensure equal opportunity to the ownership of property, and thus full participation in the democratic governance of society, as well as equal access to the banking system, which finances the creation of capital via the creation of money. If the divergence between capital and labor—between rich and poor—is explained by the monopoly access of capitalists to finance, then reducing this divergence is crucially dependent on the democratization of money. Though the role of money and finance in determining inequality between capital and labor transcends any particular understanding of the process by which the creation of money leads to inequity, specific proposals for the democratization of money will depend on the explanation of how money comes into existence and how it supports capital accumulation.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 927 | April 2019
Methods for Analyzing the Determinants of Poverty and InequalityRecentered influence functions (RIFs) are statistical tools popularized by Firpo, Fortin, and Lemieux (2009) for analyzing unconditional partial effects on quantiles in a regression analysis framework (unconditional quantile regressions). The flexibility and simplicity of these tools has opened the possibility of extending the analysis to other distributional statistics using linear regressions or decomposition approaches. In this paper, I introduce three Stata commands to facilitate the use of RIFs in the analysis of outcome distributions: rifvar() is an egen extension used to create RIFs for a large set of distributional statistics; rifhdreg facilitates the estimation of RIF regressions, enabling the use of high-dimensional fixed effects; and oaxaca_rif to implement Oaxaca-Blinder type decomposition analysis (RIF decompositions).Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
One-Pager No. 57 | September 2018The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) was designed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the changes affecting household living standards. Ajit Zacharias, Thomas Masterson, and Fernando Rios-Avila summarize their latest research on the trends in economic well-being for US households. They reveal historic stagnation in LIMEW growth over the 2000–13 period, as well as a major shift in the composition of well-being. The post-2000 period can be characterized as one of a growing dependence on the government to sustain living standards, with rising net government expenditures offsetting a sharp drop in base income.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 146 | August 2018
Post-2000 Trends in the United StatesAjit Zacharias, Thomas Masterson, and Fernando Rios-Avila update the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) for US households for the period 2000–13. The LIMEW—which comprises base income, income from wealth, net government expenditures, and the value of household production—is aimed at achieving a more comprehensive understanding of trends in living standards. This policy brief analyzes developments during this period at all levels of the LIMEW distribution, with a particular focus on the significant role played by net government expenditures. The overall trend for 2000–13 was one of historic stagnation in the growth of economic well-being for US households, but an examination of the different components of the measure reveals significant shifts taking place behind this headline trend.
A companion document, the Supplemental Tables, features additional data referenced in the policy brief.
Details about the sources of data and methods used to construct the estimates in this policy brief are discussed in Levy Institute Working Paper No. 912.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Policy Note 2018/4 | May 2018
Some Lessons from Ghana and TanzaniaIn this policy note, Thomas Masterson and Ajit Zacharias address the nexus between wage employment, consumption poverty, and time deficits in the context of Ghana and Tanzania. Based on a recently completed research project supported by the Hewlett Foundation, the authors apply the Levy Institute Measure of Time and Consumption Poverty (LIMTCP) to estimate whether the jobs that are likely to be available to potential employment-seeking, working-age individuals in consumption-poor households—who are predominantly female in both countries—can serve as vehicles of “economic empowerment.” They investigate this question using two indicators of empowerment, asking (1) whether the individual would be able to move their household to at least a minimal level of consumption via the additional earnings from their new job and (2) whether the individual would be deprived of the time required to meet the minimal needs of care for themselves (personal care), their homes, and their dependents.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):