Skip to main content

How have American baby boomers fared? Earnings and economic well-being of young adults, 1964–1987


For American baby boomers, altered demographic behavior has been the key to transforming adverse labor market conditions into favorable living levels. The economic well-being of baby boomers is, on average, higher than that of their predecessors, because they are disproportionately remaining single, having fewer children, doubling up with others, forming unmarried couple unions, and coupling mother's work with childbearing. In the 1980s, baby boomers share in common with all cohorts an increase in income inequality. In contrast to the findings on average income, demographic changes had little effect on the trend in inequality of economic well-being compared with that in earnings.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Berger MC (1989) Demographic cycles, cohort size, and earnings. Demography 26:2 311–321

    Google Scholar 

  • Bluestone B, Harrison B (1986) The great american job machine: the proliferation of low-wage employment in the US economy. Study prepared for the Joint Economic Committee of the US. Congress, Washington, DC

  • Bumpass LL, Sweet JA (1989) National estimates of cohabitation. Demography 26:4 615–625

    Google Scholar 

  • Burtless G (1990) Earnings inequality over the business and demographic cycles. In: Burtless G (ed) A future of lousy jobs? the changing structure of U. S. wages. Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, pp 77–122

    Google Scholar 

  • Danziger S, Gottschalk P (1986) Families with children have fared worst. Challenge March–April 40–47

  • Dooley MD, Gottschalk P (1984) Earnings inequality among males in the United States: trends and effects of labor force growth. J Pol Econ 92:11 59–89

    Google Scholar 

  • Duesenberry JS (1966) Income, saving, and the theory of consumer behavior. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Easterlin RA (1987) Birth and fortune, 2nd edn. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Freeman RB (1979) The effect of demographic factors on age-earnings profiles. J Human Resources 14:3 289–318

    Google Scholar 

  • Fuchs V (1986) Sex differences in economic well-being. Science 232:459–464

    Google Scholar 

  • Karoly LA (1988) A study of the distribution of individual earnings in the United States from 1967 to 1986. PhD dissertation, Yale University, New Haven, CT

    Google Scholar 

  • Lazear EP, Michael RT (1988) Allocation of income within the household. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Levy FS (1987) Dollars and dreams: the changing American income distribution. Russell Sage Foundation, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Levy FS, Michel RC (1986) An economic bust for the baby boom. Challenge (March–April) 33–39

  • Levy FS, Michel RC (1989) Economic status across generations: prospects for the future. A final project report to the Ford Foundation. The Urban Institute, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Lillard LA, Macunovich DJ (1989) Why the baby bust cohorts haven't boomed yet: a reconsideration of cohort variables in labor market analyses. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Baltimore

  • McKinley LB, Bloom DE (1987) Earnings and income inequality in the United States. Popul Dev Rev 13:575–609

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Macunovich DJ, Easterlin RA (1990) How parents have coped: the effect of life cycle demographic decisions on the economic status of pre-school age children, 1964–1987. Popul Dev Rev 16: 299–323

    Google Scholar 

  • Mare RO, Winship C (1985) Current population series, March. Uniform series, data files, University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University, with financial support from the National Science Foundation through grant SOC-7912648 (“Social and demographic sources of change in the youth labor force”)

  • Modigliani F (1961) Fluctuations in the saving-income ratio: a problem in economic forecasting. In: Conference on Research in Income and Wealth, Studies in income and wealth. Vol XI. National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, pp 371–443

    Google Scholar 

  • Moffitt RA (1990) The distribution of earnings and the welfare state. In: Burtless G (ed) A future of lousy jobs? the changing structure of U.S. wages. Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, pp 201–235

    Google Scholar 

  • Pestieau P (1989) The demographics of inequality. J Popul Econ 2(3):3–24

    Google Scholar 

  • U. S. Congressional Budget Office (1988) Trends in family income 1970–1986. Congress of the United States (February). U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Welch F (1979) Effects of cohort size on earnings: the baby boom babies' financial bust. J Pol Econ 85 (5, part 2):S65-S96

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Toronto, Canada, May 3, 1990. The authors are grateful to Donna Hokoda for excellent assistance and to the University of Southern California for financial support. Support for Easterlin was also provided by a Guggenheim Fellowship, 1988–1989. The uniform file prepared by Mare and Winship (1985) was used for the 1965 Current Population Survey data reported here.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Easterlin, R.A., Macdonald, C. & Macunovich, D.J. How have American baby boomers fared? Earnings and economic well-being of young adults, 1964–1987. J Popul Econ 3, 277–290 (1990).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Young Adult
  • Labor Market
  • Income Inequality
  • Market Condition
  • Demographic Change