Demographic change, rising earnings inequality, and the distribution of personal well-being, 1959–1989


This paper uses new methods to determine the sources of the sharp fall and then the steep rise in personal income inequality between 1959 and 1989. The increase in the proportion of single-head families tended to boost inequality over the entire period. Forty percent of the reduction in income inequality in the 1960s occurred because of the decline in earnings inequality among male heads of families; more than one-third of the increase in inequality after 1969 occurred because inequality in male earnings soared. Since 1979 females’ gains in earnings have increased inequality because these gains have been concentrated increasingly in families with high incomes

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lynn A. Karoly.

Additional information

Most of this research was supported by the Brookings Institution. Karoly also received support from Grant P-50-HD-12639 from the Center for Population Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of Shlomo Yitzhaki and two anonymousreferees, and the research assistance of Marc Steinberg and Josh Teitelbaum. The views expressed are solely those of the authors and should not be ascribed to either RAND or the Brookings Institution.

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Karoly, L.A., Burtless, G. Demographic change, rising earnings inequality, and the distribution of personal well-being, 1959–1989. Demography 32, 379–405 (1995).

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  • Income Inequality
  • Income Distribution
  • Gini Coefficient
  • Current Population Survey
  • Income Source