Income & Wealth

In market economies, the differential distribution of wealth and income are especially fundamental forms of inequality, as they determine access to goods and services of all kinds. The study of income and wealth inequality, a core commitment of the field, may be divided into such topics as (a) trends in income inequality, (b) the sources of income inequality, and (c) the effects of income inequality.

Trends in poverty and inequality

What accounts for the spectacular increase in income and wealth inequality in the last 20 years? Are the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer? Or are the rich alone pulling away from the rest of the income distribution? Do changes in inequality arise from the increasing payoff to college education and skill, from the decline of unions, from the exporting of middle-class jobs, from changes in tax policy, or from the declining minimum wage (in real dollars)? Is the poverty rate increasing? How have recent changes in welfare policy affected the poverty rate?

Who gets ahead?

Why do some people make more money than others? Does it help a lot to have rich parents or to know the right people? What is the income payoff to a college education? Is this payoff declining or increasing? Are people with lots of money happier, healthier, and otherwise better off?

Inequality and the economy

Does increasing the amount of income inequality serve to grow the economy? Is there a certain threshold beyond which any further increases in income inequality become counterproductive and harm the economy? Where might that threshold be?

"When the rich wage war it is the poor who die." - Jean-Paul Sartre

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