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Lifetime Earnings Inequality in Germany

Discussion Papers 1160, 44 S.

Timm Bönke, Giacomo Corneo, Holger Lüthen


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Published in: Journal of Labor Economics 33 (2015), 1, 171-208


This paper documents the magnitude, pattern, and evolution of lifetime earnings inequality in Germany. Based on a large sample of earning biographies from social security records, we show that the intra-generational distribution of lifetime earnings of male workers has a Gini coefficient around .2 for cohorts born in the late 1930s and early 1940s; this amounts to about 2/3 of the value of the Gini coefficient of annual earnings. Within cohorts, mobility in the distribution of yearly earnings is substantial at the beginning of the lifecycle, decreases after-wards and virtually vanishes after age forty. Earnings data for thirty-one cohorts reveals striking evidence of a secular rise of intra-generational inequality in lifetime earnings: West-German men born in the early 1960s are likely to experience about 80 % more lifetime inequality than their fathers. In contrast, both short-term and long-term intra-generational mobility have been rather stable. Longer unemployment spells of workers at the bottom of the distribution of younger cohorts contribute to explain 30 to 40 % of the overall increase in life-time earnings inequality.

Timm Bönke

Co-Head in the Macroeconomics Department

JEL-Classification: D31;D33;H24
Keywords: Lifetime Earnings, Earnings Distribution, Inequality, Mobility, Germany
Frei zugängliche Version: (econstor)