Research and Analysis by Daniel B. Radner
It is well-known that for most purposes income size distribution data collected in household surveys are far from ideal. The problems with those data can be separated into two types: the data items that are collected, and the accuracy of the data collected. Usually, although there are important exceptions, the income data collected are confined to cash income before taxes, thus ignoring the effects of both taxes and noncash income of all types. Also, the income estimates usually are for one year, which often is not the best accounting period for analysis. Furthermore, there usually is a lack of adequate detail by income type, and the data ordinarily are not sufficiently detailed to adjust for changes in the composition of the family unit during the income accounting period.
Most analyses of economic status use only income as the measure of resources. It is clear, however, that wealth also plays an important role in economic well-being. The existence of both income and asset tests for eligibility purposes in several government transfer programs (e.g., Supplemental Security Income, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps) suggests the importance of both wealth and income. Units of the same age, income, and needs are not equally well off if they have different amounts of wealth. A fully satisfactory way of taking differences in wealth into account in a combined income-wealth measure is not available. Particularly controversial is the comparison of different age groups when such measures are used. This exploratory paper examines the use of income-wealth measures for the analysis of the distribution of economic well-being for age groups in the current period.
This paper discusses what is known about the economic status of the aged. Numerous complexities involved in the assessment of the economic status of the aged are discussed. Compared with most other recent assessments, this study shows a less favorable status for the aged relative to other age groups. The focus is on an examination of detailed age groups, rather than summary aged and nonaged groups, thus providing a more complete picture of age differences. More than most other assessments, this study stresses uncertainty about the relative status of the aged and emphasizes what we do not know. The need for better adjustments for differences in needs among age and other subgroups of the population is stressed. The need for consistency between the definition of resources and the specification of needs is also emphasized. The vulnerability of the aged to economic risks is discussed.
In recent years there has been great interest in the economic status of the aged, especially in connection with the debates about the appropriate level of Social Security benefits and Medicare coverage and financing. The economic status of the aged relative to other age groups has been of particular interest in these debates. This paper examines changes in the before-tax cash income of the aged and of other age groups from 1984 to 1989. Earlier research found that the real income of the aged rose substantially, both absolutely and relative to the income of the nonaged, from about 1970 to the mid-1980s. It is shown here that from 1984 to 1989 the real income of the aged rose slowly, and fell slightly relative to the income of the nonaged. The different rates of income growth for different aged groups are explored in this paper, with the emphasis on differences between the aged and nonaged. This paper also serves as an update of an earlier paper that contained estimates for the 1967–1984 period. The estimates in this paper generally are consistent with those presented in the earlier article.
This paper examines the family income and the household wealth and income of old old persons. Subgroups of the old old are compared, and the old old are compared with the young old. When the old old group is separated into three subgroups—widows living alone, other females, and males—the economic status of widows living alone is substantially below that of the other two subgroups. This difference is found when income, wealth, and combined income-wealth measures are used. When the old old group is compared with the young old group, the economic status of the old old is substantially lower for all measures examined. When the three subgroups within both the old old and young old groups are compared, the economic status of each subgroup is lower for the old old for most measures. Income data from the March 1991 Current Population Survey and wealth and income data from the 1984 Survey of Income and Program Participation are used.
An Example of the Use of Statistical Matching in the Estimation and Analysis of the Size Distribution of Income
This paper discusses the use of statistical matching in the estimation and analysis of the size distribution of family unit personal income. Statistical matching is a relatively new technique that has been used to combine, at the single observation level, data from two different samples, each of which contains some data items that are absent from the other file. In a statistical match, the information brought together from the different files ordinarily is not for the same person but for similar persons; the match is made on the basis of similar characteristics. In contrast, in an "exact" match, information for the same person from two or more files is brought together using personal identifying information.
This exploratory paper examines the role of age in the distribution of family income in several countries. Unlike most papers that compare the distribution of income across countries, the primary concern in this paper is not with comparisons of the overall degree of inequality. Instead we are more interested in two aspects of the cross-section relationship between age and income. First, we are interested in the relative economic well-being of income recipient units in different age (of head) groups in several developed countries. In the U.S. in recent years, in connection with modifications to the social security system, there has been considerable discussion of the "fair" level of income of the aged population. That discussion has led us to a particular interest in the relative economic well-being of the aged population in other developed countries. Where the data allow, the aged (age 65 and over) group is split into 65–69 and 70 and over age groups as at least partial recognition that economic well-being can differ markedly among subgroups of the aged population. (Other important characteristics such as labor force participation, sex, and the receipt of government retirement income could not be examined.) This paper attempts an initial look at the very complex subject of the relative economic well-being of different age groups in several countries.
The economic status of the elderly and the economic status of children are analyzed using a comprehensive definition of income that takes selected types of noncash income and taxes into account. Estimates are presented for detailed age groups over the entire age range and for socioeconomic classifications within the elderly subgroup and within the subgroup of children. The paper finds that children and the elderly are less well off than the middle age groups. This result is obtained using median incomes and the percentage of the group that has low income, as defined here. When results obtained with the measures presented in this paper are compared with results obtained with more commonly used measures, there are important differences for both the elderly and for children. For both groups, the composition of the low-income population differs in important ways from the composition of the official poverty population.
This paper reports on estimates of federal income tax and Social Security tax liabilities of family units in 1972 and summarizes the methods used to make the estimates. Distributions of income both before and after subtracting those liabilities are shown. Several microdata files were combined using both "exact" and "statistical" matching of individual observations in the process of making these estimates.
This article examines the money incomes of the elderly and the nonelderly. The economic status of the elderly is put in perspective by discussing changes in real incomes since 1967 and the income of the elderly relative to the incomes of other age groups. Detailed age groups within both the elderly and nonelderly groups are examined. The article finds that the economic status of the elderly in 1992 was substantially better than in 1967, but was about the same as that in 1984. The real median income of the elderly rose during the period from 1967 to 1989, but declined from 1989 to 1992. The ratio of the income of the elderly to that of the nonelderly was higher in 1992 than in 1967, but the 1992 ratio was lower than that in 1984. Large increases in mean Social Security benefits were important in the increase in the total income of the elderly since 1967.
This paper examines the money incomes of the elderly and the nonelderly. The economic status of the elderly is put in perspective by discussing changes in real incomes since 1967 and the income of the elderly relative to the incomes of other age groups. Detailed age groups within both the elderly and nonelderly groups are examined. The paper finds that the economic status of the elderly in 1992 was substantially better than in 1967 but was about the same as in 1984. The real median income of the elderly rose from 1967 to 1989 but fell from 1989 to 1992. The ratio of the income of the elderly to that of the nonelderly was higher in 1992 than in 1967, but the 1992 ratio was below the 1984 ratio. Large increases in mean Social Security benefits were important in the increase in the total income of the elderly since 1967.
This paper examines the economic well-being of age groups in the U.S. using data on both income and wealth. Although income will be discussed, we will focus on wealth in order to exploit relatively current data on wealth that have become available recently.
The economic well-being of subgroups of the population usually is measured by comparing resources and needs. The measure of resources often includes noncash income. Equivalence scales are used to adjust for differential needs. Little attention, however, has been paid to the desirability of consistency between the specifications of the resources and the equivalence scales in these comparisons. This exploratory paper suggests that a lack of consistency between the definitions used on the income and the needs sides can be important for the assessment of the economic well-being of subgroups when some types of noncash income are included in the definition of income. The measured economic status of the aged in the United States when Medicare noncash income is included in the definition of income is used as an example of this consistency problem. Some previous estimates have used equivalence scales that probably understated the relative needs of the aged by omitting needs associated with Medicare. The measured economic well-being of the aged relative to that of other age groups could be overestimated substantially as a result of this consistency problem. The basic problem is not confined to the treatment of Medicare or to the United States, but is much broader in nature.
This paper examines the financial prospects of the baby boomers in their elderly years. The paper primarily attempts to draw together and summarize results found by other researchers, but a few new estimates are presented. The consensus of the research appears to be the following. Up to this point, the baby boom generation as a whole has a higher economic status than their parents' generation did at the same ages, but this does not hold for some subgroups. When it becomes elderly, the baby boom generation as a whole probably will have a higher economic status than their parents' generation has and will have at those ages, but, again, this may not hold for some subgroups. It is uncertain whether the baby boom generation as a whole will have enough resources in retirement to maintain their preretirement standard of living without increasing their saving or retiring later, but some subgroups will be able to maintain their living standard without changing their behavior.
In this article, the financial prospects of baby boomers in their elderly years are examined. The article primarily attempts to draw together and summarize results found by other researchers, but a few new estimates are presented. The consensus of the research appears to be the following. Up to this pint, the baby boom generation as a whole has a higher economic status that did their parents' generation at the same ages, but this does not hold for some subgroups. When it becomes elderly, the baby boom generation as a whole probably will have a higher economic status that their parents' generation has and will have at those ages, but, again, this may not hold for some subgroups. It is uncertain whether the baby boom generation as a whole will have enough resources in retirement to maintain their preretirement standard of living without increasing their saving or retiring later, but some subgroups will be able to maintain their living standard without changing their behavior.
In recent years there has been a substantial amount of discussion about the economic status of the aged. There is a widely accepted view that the status of the aged has improved relative to the nonaged. This view has affected the debate on modifications to the Social Security system and other retirement plans. This paper discusses changes in the economic status of the aged during the past several years, in terms of the real income of the aged and in terms of the income of the aged relative to the income of the nonaged. The analysis uses detailed age groups within both the aged and nonaged groups. This detail is important because summary age groups are not homogeneous. Income change at different income levels within each age group is also examined. Income is adjusted for size of family unit and, in some cases, age of head.
This paper discusses and illustrates the use of wealth data for the analysis of the economic status of households. Selected estimates of wealth for 1984 from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) are used as illustrations. The particular focus is on the wealth of age groups, with a special interest in the aged. Comparisons of the amounts and composition of wealth of the aged and nonaged (and of more detailed age groups) are presented. The emphasis is on the economic resources available to households other than the very wealthy. The degree of concentration of wealth, the subject that wealth data traditionally have been used to examine, is not discussed. Thus, this paper reflects a somewhat different perspective on the use of wealth data.