Mobility, Taxation and Welfare

June 29, 2011

By: Bibi, Sami (Université Laval) Duclos, Jean-Yves (Université Laval) Araar, Abdelkrim (Université Laval)


Income mobility is often thought to equalize permanent incomes and thereby to improve social welfare. The welfare analysis of mobility often fails, however, to account for the cost of the variability of periodic incomes around permanent incomes. This paper assesses the net welfare benefit of mobility by assuming both a social aversion to inequality in permanent incomes and an individual aversion to variability in periodic incomes. The paper further investigates the combined (and comparative) impact of mobility and of the tax system (another presumed income equalizer) on the dynamics of income across time and on the inequality of income across individuals. Using panel data, we find that Canada’s tax system limits significantly the redistributive impact of mobility while also lowering considerably the cost of income variability. The permanent income equalizing effect of taxes can reach up to 23 percent of mean income at the higher values of inequality aversion that we use. Globally, the net social welfare effect of both mobility and taxation is (almost always) positive and substantial, often amounting to around 30 percent of mean income. For all choices of parameter values, the tax effect exceeds by far the net effect of mobility on inequality and social welfare. Keywords: mobility, social welfare, risk, income variability, inequality, permanent income JEL: D31

Employment, Hours of Work and the Optimal Taxation of Low Income Families

June 23, 2011

By: Blundell, Richard (University College London)
Shephard, Andrew (Princeton University)


The optimal design of low income support is examined using a structural labour supply model. The approach incorporates unobserved heterogeneity, fixed costs of work, childcare costs and the detailed non-convexities of the tax and transfer system. The analysis considers purely Pareto improving reforms and also optimal design under social welfare functions with different degrees of inequality aversion. We explore the gains from tagging and also examine the case for the use of hours-contingent payments. Using the tax schedule for lone parents in the UK as our policy environment, the results point to a reformed non-linear tax schedule with tax credits only optimal for low earners. The results also suggest a welfare improving role for tagging according to child age and for hours-contingent payments, although the case for the latter is mitigated when hours cannot be monitored or recorded accurately by the tax authorities.
Keywords: low income support, optimal taxation, labour supply
JEL: J22

The Contribution of the Minimum Wage to U.S. Wage Inequality over Three Decades: A Reassessment

June 16, 2011

by David H. Autor Alan Manning Christopher L. Smith


We reassess the effect of state and federal minimum wages on U.S. earnings inequality, attending to two issues that appear to bias earlier work: violation of the assumed independence of state wage levels and state wage dispersion, and errors-in-variables that inflate impact estimates via an analogue of the well known division bias problem. We find that the minimum wage reduces inequality in the lower tail of the wage distribution (the 50/10 wage ratio), but the impacts are typically less than half as large as those reported in the literature and are almost negligible for males. Nevertheless, the estimated effects extend to wage percentiles where the minimum is nominally non-binding, implying spillovers. We structurally estimate these spillovers and show that their relative importance grows as the nominal minimum wage becomes less binding. Subsequent analysis underscores, however, that spillovers and measurement error (absent spillovers) have similar implications for the effect of the minimum on the shape of the lower tail of the measured wage distribution. With available precision, we cannot reject the hypothesis that estimated spillovers to non-binding percentiles are due to reporting artifacts. Accepting this null, the implied effect of the minimum wage on the actual wage distribution is smaller than the effect of the minimum wage on the measured wage distribution. Keywords: Wage structure, inequality, minimum wage JEL: E24

On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough

June 7, 2011

By: Alberto F. Alesina
Paola Giuliano
Nathan Nunn


This paper seeks to better understand the historical origins of current differences in norms and beliefs about the appropriate role of women in society. We test the hypothesis that traditional agricultural practices influenced the historical gender division of labor and the evolution and persistence of gender norms. We find that, consistent with existing hypotheses, the descendants of societies that traditionally practiced plough agriculture, today have lower rates of female participation in the workplace, in politics, and in entrepreneurial activities, as well as a greater prevalence of attitudes favoring gender inequality. We identify the causal impact of traditional plough use by exploiting variation in the historical geo-climatic suitability of the environment for growing crops that differentially benefited from the adoption of the plough. Our IV estimates, based on this variation, support the findings from OLS. To isolate the importance of cultural transmission as a mechanism, we examine female labor force participation of second-generation immigrants living within the US.

JEL: J16


Money and Happiness: Evidence from the Industry Wage Structure

June 6, 2011

By: Pischke, Jörn-Steffen (London School of Economics)


There is a well-established positive correlation between life-satisfaction measures and income in individual level cross-sectional data. This paper attempts to provide some evidence on whether this correlation reflects causality running from money to happiness. I use industry wage differentials as instruments for income. This is based on the idea that at least part of these differentials are due to rents, and part of the pattern of industry affiliations of individuals is random. To probe the validity of these assumptions, I compare estimates for life satisfaction with those for job satisfaction, present fixed effects estimates, and present estimates for married women using their husbands’ industry as the instrument. All these specifications paint a fairly uniform picture across three different data sets. IV estimates are similar to the OLS estimates suggesting that most of the association of income and well-being is causal.

Keywords: life satisfaction, well-being