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December 1997

Has wage inequality stopped growing?

Jared Bernstein, Lawrence Mishel

Earnings inequality increased sharply in the early 1980s, tapered off in the late 1980s, and reaccelerated in the 1990s. Although inequality increased overall and for men and women separately, a combined analysis overlooks differences in the labor market dynamics of men and women. This article examines several questions regarding the generalization that wage inequality has increased sharply since the late 1970s, including 1) Did earnings inequality among all workers stop growing in the mid-1980s?, 2) What data serve best to measure the trend in equality, and which metrics are the most revealing?, and 3) When should we look at the combined distribution of men's and women's earnings, rather than at their separate distribution?

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