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Has economic growth made Americans better off despite rising income inequality? Evidence from subjective well-being data

Daniel Bennett, PhD Nikolaev, B.
Journal of Private Enterprise. August 13, 2020

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A large portion of the real income gains from US economic growth since the 1970s has accrued to the top income quartile. We evaluate the equality-efficiency trade-off using subjective well-being data from the General Social Survey. Specifically, we estimate the parameter of inequality aversion within a neoutilitarian framework of welfare analysis and calculate the Atkinson Inequality Index. We then use this information to evaluate social welfare over the period 1974–2012. The analysis suggests that economic growth has been sufficient to raise social welfare despite the rising level of income inequality, but Americans have become more inequality averse over time.