Economic Inequality


Inequality is a broad multifaceted concept that is impossible to reduce to a single number or visualization; to understand it better, we must look at numerous perspectives (income, wealth, education, health, access to technology, and a multitude more). Below is just a single exploration: a snapshot in time comparing the distributions of individual incomes of people within countries and across the world. You can skip to the interactive visualization, but you will get a richer picture of the data by reading the essay first.

Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective

We study the sources of racial and ethnic disparities in income using de-identified longitudinal data covering nearly the entire U.S. population from 1989-2015. We document three sets of results. First, the intergenerational persistence of disparities …

The cost of the American dream

PAUL RYAN, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, recently tweeted that, “[i]n our country, the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. This is what makes America so great.” The idea that every American newborn has an equal opportunity to enjoy the good life is false. But it isn’t just the Speaker who radically underestimates the importance of the lottery of birth—his is a popular view country-wide.

Severe Inequality Is Incompatible With the American Dream

The numbers are sobering: People born in the 1940s had a 92 percent chance of earning more than their parents did at age 30. For people born in the 1980s, by contrast, the chances were just 50-50. The finding comes from a new paper out of The Equality of Opportunity Project, a joint research effort of Harvard and Stanford led by the economist Raj Chetty. The paper puts numbers on what many have seen firsthand for years: The American dream—the ability to climb the economic ladder and achieve more than one’s parents did—is less and less a reality with every decade that goes by.

Emerging and Developing Economies Much More Optimistic than Rich Countries about the Future

This report examines public opinion about opportunity and inequality around the world, including financial prospects for the next generation, the biggest factors to getting ahead in life and the causes of inequality. It is based on 48,643 interviews …

Why Income Inequality Is Here to Stay

Before the global financial crisis, income inequality was relegated to the underworld of economics. The motives of those who studied it were impugned. According to Martin Feldstein, the former head of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors, such people must have been motivated by envy. Robert Lucas, a Nobel prize winner, thought that “nothing [is] as poisonous” to sound economics as “to focus on questions of distribution.” But amid bailouts, unemployment, and ever-fresh financial scandals among the top 1%, the issue of income inequality has seeped into the mainstream economics and become a legitimate subject of research.

Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans

It is important to know what wealthy Americans seek from politics and how (if at all) their policy preferences differ from those of other citizens. There can be little doubt that the wealthy exert more political influence than the less affluent do. …

The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs about Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution

It is widely assumed that Americans care little about income inequality, believe opportunities abound, admire the rich, and dislike redistributive policies. Leslie McCall contends that such assumptions are based on both incomplete survey data and …

Saving the American Idea: Rejecting Fear, Envy, and the Politics of Division

The American commitment to equality of opportunity, economic liberty, and upward mobility is not tried in days of prosperity. It is tested when times are tough—when fear and envy are used to divide Americans and further the interests of politicians and their cronies. In this major address at The Heritage Foundation, Congressman Paul Ryan dissects the real class warfare—a class of governing elites, exploiting the politics of division to pick winners and losers in our economy and determine our destinies for us—and outlines a principled, pro-growth alternative to this path of debt, doubt and decline.

Americans' Social Preferences in the Era of Rising Inequality

Rising income inequality has been a defining trend of the past generation, yet we know little about its impact on social policy formation. We evaluate two dominant views about public opinion on rising inequality: that Americans do not care much about …