Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 49, Issue 3–4, pp 499–544 | Cite as

Inequality of income acquisition: the role of childhood circumstances

  • Paul Hufe
  • Andreas PeichlEmail author
  • John Roemer
  • Martin Ungerer
Original Paper


Many studies have estimated the effect of circumstances on income acquisition. Perhaps surprisingly, the fraction of inequality attributable to circumstances is usually quite small—in the advanced democracies, approximately 20%. One reason for this is the lack of data on circumstance variables in empirical research. Here, we argue that all behaviors and accomplishments of children should be considered the consequence of circumstances: that is, an individual should not be considered to be responsible for her choices before an age of consent is reached. Using two data sets that contain data on childhood accomplishments, other environmental circumstances and the income as an adult, we calculate that the fraction of income inequality due to circumstances in the US rises from 27 to 43% when accounting for childhood circumstances. In the UK it rises from 18 to 27%.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Hufe
    • 1
  • Andreas Peichl
    • 2
    Email author
  • John Roemer
    • 3
  • Martin Ungerer
    • 4
  1. 1.ZEW and the University of MannheimMannheimGermany
  2. 2.ZEW, the University of Mannheim, IZA and CESifoMannheimGermany
  3. 3.Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.ZEW and the University of CologneMannheimGermany

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