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Economists and other social scientists have long been interested in measures of income inequality. Most such measures are based on individual or household income at a moment in time. However, as a measure of the distribution of welfare, the typical income inequality measure leaves out an important dimension: the length of time over which an income or consumption stream is enjoyed. (See Becker, Philipson and Soares, 2004). Clearly two individuals with the same annual income or consumption but differing in longevity do not have the same total welfare. This paper is about differences in longevity. Specifically I seek to describe the historical evolution of longevity differences across individuals. This is motivated by the comparative neglect of the longevity component in the analysis of inequality.

This dramatic decline in mortality inequality in the 20th century has transformed a major source of social inequality into a minor one. Mortality Ginis today are only a fraction of ven the lowest income Ginis

The difference between the average lifetimes of those who die early (say before 80) and those who do not is now on the order of 20 years, or half what it was when the 20th century began. Interestingly, if future progress does materially increase the full measure of our years that difference will widen and mortality inequality will reverse its historic downward course.

The paper is here. I am surprised that no one (at least that I follow) picked this up – seems like an important and very interesting contribution to the debate on inequality. Any guesses as to why this is so?

One Response to “Sam Peltzman’s Augmented Thinking About Inequality”

  1. Harry says:

    “Economists and other social scientists have long been interested in measures of income inequality.”

    Wintercow, this is what separates them from us.

    As a free man, I’ve always tried to make my income more than what they last paid me, and once I had a chance to save, make my income grow. That is, unless I wasted it. I never tried to make myself equal in income to a sociology professor.

    Income inequality has always been my problem, as in “How do I make more money?” Or, recently, “How do I keep the sociologists from taking all of my money?”

    They are relentless.

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