Is It Just the One Percent, or Is Affluence a Normal Life Course Event?

Thomas Hirschl, Cornell University

Recent analyses of high income have focused on proportions of income derived by various fractions of the U.S. population such as the top one percent, the top decile, and so forth. Because such analyses are generally cross-sectional, they do not reveal mobility in and out of high income over the life course, nor what percent of the population attains high income. Second, cross-sectional analyses can't identify whether the life course odds of high income are increasing over time for individuals and families. In this analysis we answer these questions using a life table framework and data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The findings demonstrate that affluence is a common life course event for both single and for multiple years. For example, 12.4 percent of individuals attain the top one percent in family income between age 25 and 60. Second, that the life course odds of attaining affluence is decreasing over time.

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Presented in Session 140: Economic and Geographic Mobility