Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 261-286

First online:

Living conditions among the poor in four rich countries

  • Susan E. MayerAffiliated withHarris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago

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The share of income going to the poorest 10% of Americans is much smaller than the share of income going to the poorest 10% of Canadians, Swedes, or Germans (before unification). However, comparisons across countries of the distribution of housing conditions, consumer durables, health, and visits to the doctor and dentist suggest that compared to the average person in their country, low-income Americans are no worse off than low-income residents of other countries. But these conclusions partly depend on how income is adjusted for family size. Americans whose incomes are low for a long time may suffer more material deprivation than Canadians whose incomes are low for a long time. Conclusions about economic well-being based on current income may not rank nations the same as comparisons based on deprivation in living conditions.