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Inequality of opportunity in the land of opportunities, 1968–2001


We measure inequality of opportunity for earnings acquisition in the U.S. between 1968 and 2001. Following recent theories of social justice, earnings determinants are divided into two parts: Circumstances, which are characteristics outside individual control and effort representing factors impacting earnings but under individuals’ responsibility. Equality of opportunity requires that inequality of circumstances must be corrected while differences of effort must remain unaltered. Circumstances are represented by parental education and occupation, ethnic origin, place of birth and age. Effort is modeled with schooling choices and labour supply decisions. Using the PSID from 1968 to 2001, we provide two alternative assessments of inequality of opportunity using counterfactual distributions. The statistical framework is semi-parametric and builds on duration models. Finally, we conclude that inequality of opportunity represents between 20 and 43% of earnings inequality, but decreases all over the period reaching around 18% in 2001.

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Correspondence to Nicolas Pistolesi.

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Pistolesi, N. Inequality of opportunity in the land of opportunities, 1968–2001. J Econ Inequal 7, 411 (2009).

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  • Equality of opportunity
  • Inequality
  • Income distribution
  • Semi-parametric estimator

JEL Classification

  • D31
  • D63