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WEALTH INEQUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES SINCE 1913: EVIDENCE FROM CAPITALIZED INCOME TAX DATA

This paper combines income tax returns with macroeconomic household balance sheets to estimate the distribution of wealth in the United States since 1913. We estimate wealth by capitalizing the incomes reported by individual taxpayers, accounting for assets that do not generate taxable income. We su... Full description

Journal Title: The Quarterly journal of economics 2016-05-01, Vol.131 (2), p.519-578
Main Author: Saez, Emmanuel
Other Authors: Zucman, Gabriel
Format: Electronic Article Electronic Article
Language: English
Subjects:
Publisher: Oxford: Oxford University Press
ID: ISSN: 0033-5533
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title: WEALTH INEQUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES SINCE 1913: EVIDENCE FROM CAPITALIZED INCOME TAX DATA
format: Article
creator:
  • Saez, Emmanuel
  • Zucman, Gabriel
subjects:
  • Analysis
  • ARTICLES
  • Capitalization
  • Family income
  • Income distribution
  • Income inequality
  • Income tax returns
  • Income taxes
  • Personal income
  • Studies
  • Tax returns
ispartof: The Quarterly journal of economics, 2016-05-01, Vol.131 (2), p.519-578
description: This paper combines income tax returns with macroeconomic household balance sheets to estimate the distribution of wealth in the United States since 1913. We estimate wealth by capitalizing the incomes reported by individual taxpayers, accounting for assets that do not generate taxable income. We successfully test our capitalization method in three micro datasets where we can observe both income and wealth: the Survey of Consumer Finance, linked estate and income tax returns, and foundations’ tax records. We find that wealth concentration was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then. The top 0.1% wealth share has risen from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012, a level almost as high as in 1929. Top wealth-holders are younger today than in the 1960s and earn a higher fraction of the economy’s labor income. The bottom 90% wealth share first increased up to the mid-1980s and then steadily declined. The increase in wealth inequality in recent decades is due to the upsurge of top incomes combined with an increase in saving rate inequality. We explain how our findings can be reconciled with Survey of Consumer Finances and estate tax data.
language: eng
source:
identifier: ISSN: 0033-5533
fulltext: no_fulltext
issn:
  • 0033-5533
  • 1531-4650
url: Link


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descriptionThis paper combines income tax returns with macroeconomic household balance sheets to estimate the distribution of wealth in the United States since 1913. We estimate wealth by capitalizing the incomes reported by individual taxpayers, accounting for assets that do not generate taxable income. We successfully test our capitalization method in three micro datasets where we can observe both income and wealth: the Survey of Consumer Finance, linked estate and income tax returns, and foundations’ tax records. We find that wealth concentration was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then. The top 0.1% wealth share has risen from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012, a level almost as high as in 1929. Top wealth-holders are younger today than in the 1960s and earn a higher fraction of the economy’s labor income. The bottom 90% wealth share first increased up to the mid-1980s and then steadily declined. The increase in wealth inequality in recent decades is due to the upsurge of top incomes combined with an increase in saving rate inequality. We explain how our findings can be reconciled with Survey of Consumer Finances and estate tax data.
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subjectAnalysis ; ARTICLES ; Capitalization ; Family income ; Income distribution ; Income inequality ; Income tax returns ; Income taxes ; Personal income ; Studies ; Tax returns
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abstractThis paper combines income tax returns with macroeconomic household balance sheets to estimate the distribution of wealth in the United States since 1913. We estimate wealth by capitalizing the incomes reported by individual taxpayers, accounting for assets that do not generate taxable income. We successfully test our capitalization method in three micro datasets where we can observe both income and wealth: the Survey of Consumer Finance, linked estate and income tax returns, and foundations’ tax records. We find that wealth concentration was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then. The top 0.1% wealth share has risen from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012, a level almost as high as in 1929. Top wealth-holders are younger today than in the 1960s and earn a higher fraction of the economy’s labor income. The bottom 90% wealth share first increased up to the mid-1980s and then steadily declined. The increase in wealth inequality in recent decades is due to the upsurge of top incomes combined with an increase in saving rate inequality. We explain how our findings can be reconciled with Survey of Consumer Finances and estate tax data.
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