The chart above shows how far things have moved off their traditional ratios in terms of US incomes. The top 1% are earning more income, and keeping more of it, than anytime since the roaring 1920s.

This fascinating set of data points via the Paris School of Economics (referred to us by Invictus!). You can access this via their website and slice and dice the income data by nation, income percentile, etc. anyway you like.

As the Authors note:

The world top incomes database aims to providing convenient on line access to all the existent series. This is an ongoing endeavour, and we will progressively update the base with new observations, as authors extend the series forwards and backwards. Despite the database’s name, we will also add information on the distribution of earnings and the distribution of wealth. As the map below shows, around forty-five further countries are under study, and will be incorporated at some point (see Work in Progress).

Category: Digital Media, Wages & Income

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

35 Responses to “World Top Incomes Database”

  1. Hantra says:

    Wow! But what causes this? I mean it cannot be JUST tax policies, right? What else? Could it be the overall decline in the factory?

  2. AHodge says:

    i assume this from tax data
    to do a decent job you might need to think about offshore and the $60 $80 billion S corp losses and other income hiding tax dodges
    before concluding the numbers arent higher

  3. AHodge says:

    make that $92.8 billion of S corp “loss” deductions in 2007 latest available

  4. formerlawyer says:


    From the Introduction:

    There has been a marked revival of interest in the study of the distribution of top incomes using tax data. Beginning with the research by Piketty of the long-run distribution of top incomes in France (2001, 2003), …
    In using data from the income tax records, these studies use similar sources and methods as the pioneering work by Kuznets (1953) for the United States. It is surprising that Kuznets’ lead was not followed and that for many years the income tax data were under-utilised. This means however that the findings of recent research are of added interest, since the new data provide estimates covering nearly all of the twentieth century -a length of time series unusual in economics.

  5. AHodge says:

    your small businessmen hard at work…..

  6. VennData says:

    What causes this, you ask. It can’t just be tax policy you say.

    It is the lazy workers at the bottom who skew the numbers, meaning YOU, because we know from listening to Fox News and the GOP media machine that the US has the highest tax rates, the rich pay all the taxes, and everyone who has a family farm loses it due to the high death taxes the Socialists who run our once-great nation just raised.

  7. AHodge says:

    right former…
    i know kuznets well
    as he is about the only one with data that the other Great recession started in 1928 with CAPEX, housing, commodity producer and germany collapsing,
    money and the stock market only added
    but kuznets lives on in all the govt income side reporting,
    its just that for the US
    when income doesnt match GDP
    income gets fudged

  8. cthwaites says:

    So Republicans would say, this is great. More of the job producing class is taking more home and they will hire more people so they can take more home….and so on. Should be a heck of an upturn just around the corner if you believe lower taxes are the answer to everything.

  9. VennData says:

    The other 99% are lazy liberal losers like YOU who are looking for handouts.

    We know from listening to Fox News, the WSJ, and from the GOP media mavens that US taxes are the highest in the world, the rich pay all the taxes, and family farmers are being thrown off their family farms by the millions because of Obama and his hatred of hard work and innovation … and his Socialist death taxes…

    .. so ignore this so-called data and hope for some real data about the end of the Obama agenda and his liberal lies that the GOP “coddles” the rich … before America sinks further than it has … even though it’s too late.

    And will the last American leaving Obama’s horror show of corruption and poverty please take the American flag.

  10. Bob is still unemployed   says:

    No wonder the Republicans yell and scream about class warfare every time someone mentions allowing Bush’s temporary tax cuts for the wealthy to expire as they were supposed to.

    There already has been a class war and, as the chart so vividly shows, the wealthy have won.

  11. DL says:

    I suppose the people who put out this information are trying to imply that we have some sort of a problem.

    As such, one can only guess at what sort of “solution” they may have in mind, and whether or not the other 99% would really be made better off as a result.

  12. Invictus says:

    That database rocks. I’ll be spending some quality time there slicing and dicing my way to future posts.

  13. realgm says:

    When the bankers can get millions in bonus after they nearly bankrupted their banks, it’s easy to see why the top 1% is making so much more than the rest.

  14. freejack says:

    Not so funny how the birth, rise, stagnation and fall of the American middle class inversely correlates with that graph’s slope n’ data

  15. freejack says:

    I’d also like to see how ‘union membership as a percentage of total workforce’ looks next to that graph.

  16. louiswi says:

    Why wouldn’t a society use inheritance taxes to help provide for universal health care for its living members? This just makes sense for the society.

  17. Herb2 says:

    In the antebellum era of Soc 1, we read a book titled, We Need the Poor. We must not have needed the book as a quick search didn’t find it, but it reminded us that someone needs to buy our used vehicle and dated houses and to do the cooking and cleaning. The search mostly found proclamations that we need the poor for our spiritual and egotistical satisfaction, but http://josephineensign.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/poverty-medicine-why-we-need-the-poor-and-the-uninsured/ speaks to the need relative to medicine, e.g.

    sociologist Herbert Gans’ “The Positive Functions of Poverty” (AJN, 1972). Among his many suggested positive functions of poverty, the following have pertinence to poverty medicine:

    1) Poverty makes possible the existence and expansion of respectable jobs, including social work and public health (and I would add poverty medicine).

    2) The poor support medical innovation by being “practice” patients at public hospitals and by being guinea pigs in medical experiments.

    3) The poor—the uninsured who have to turn to free clinics like the Tacoma Dome—make the rest of us feel better about our social standing: at least we aren’t that poor. Yet.

    4) And here’s one of Herbert Gans’ positive functions of the poor that can really make us squirm: “They also provide incomes for doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others who are too old, poorly trained, or incompetent to attract more affluent clients.” (p 280)

    The chart clearly shows the rapidly growing need for the poor and our ability to meet that need.

  18. webscale says:

    All the developed countries stabilized at 7% to 10% starting 1950′s. The GAP increased for US increased in 1990′s and still rises. This to me is more a dollar superiority problem than a *REAL* GAP. Dollar , as the world reserve currency has bloated the dollar. No other country could have afforded the excesses of the last decade without comprising its currency.

  19. socaljoe says:

    Amazing what a 30 year decline to negative US real interest rates and a tripling of P/E ratios can do.

    I suspect the next 30 years will look different.

  20. Woof says:

    Can anyone explain the big jump after 1986 in US and Australia? Is this after-tax income?

    Looks like bad data to me…or maybe I just wich it were so.

  21. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    WWII was transformative. ’86 might be the results of Volker’s term at the Fed running out, or it might be the beginning of the big deregulation. Or trickle down. Either way, that’s when our current troubles started.

  22. Woof says:

    US data not entirely consistent with NYT source:


  23. Robespierre says:

    What causes this? Easy enough. Plot the level of government corruption against time and you will see that the more government officials are own by corporations the more the income disparity.

  24. cjcpa says:

    @ Woof —

    Reagan administration changed the tax code in 1986. I was 16 at the time, so I’m scant on details.

    However, I am pretty sure that, based on his reputation, and his advocacy of Trickle Down Economics — that there were some aspects of that legislation that fostered income disparity.


  25. DeDude says:

    I think Reagan reduced capital gains tax rates in 1986 giving people who had accumulated gains in their investment portfolio a huge incentive to realize those gains. On top of that the 1986 crash had given a lot of sophisticated investors a golden opportunity to get in at a low point so they had huge gains to cash in the following couple of years.

  26. Robespierre says:

    @DeDude Says:

    “On top of that the 1986 crash had given a lot of sophisticated investors a golden opportunity to get in at a low point so they had huge gains to cash in the following couple of years.”

    First of all the crash was in 1987: “On October 19, 1987, the stock market, along with the associated futures and options markets, crashed, with the S&P 500 stock market index falling about 20 percent.”

    Secondly to say “sophisticated investors” when in reality these were investors who knew that the FED will come to their rescue. “The Federal Reserve was active in providing highly visible liquidity support in an effort to
    bolster market functioning. In particular, the Federal Reserve eased short-term credit conditions
    by conducting more expansive open market operations at earlier-than-usual times, issuing public
    statements affirming its commitment to providing liquidity, and temporarily liberalizing the rules
    governing the lending of Treasury securities from its portfolio. The liquidity support was important
    by itself, but the public nature of the activities likely helped support market confidence. The
    Federal Reserve also encouraged the commercial banking system to extend liquidity support to
    other financial market participants.”

    Interesting, however, is to see how the “crises” are becoming more and more expensive as government intervention to save the top %1 demands more and more of the national wealth

  27. victor says:

    Here’s my two or three cents:

    1) the top 1% income earners (suppose they actually earn it, which is a reach) also pay some 40% of federal taxes collected not to mention sate and local taxes

    2) in response to those who (once again) insist of interpreting this data in a politically partisan fashion I’d like to remind them that by most metrics the majority of the rich/uber rich and famous in the US are now voting Democrat and/or are avowed liberals, think: Soros, Buffett, Gates, Kohl, Kerry, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Big Law, etc, etc.

    3) about the causes for income inequality in the US: a) discrimination (race, gender, religion, etc)? most of it is no more; b) inheritance? most of today’s wealth/income are of very recent vintage: 25 years on the average; c) illegal activities: Madoff is behind bars but here’s the rub: legally gotten incomes by CEO’s and other type leaders who get themselves sweet deals they don’t deserve: think Bob Nardelli @ Home Depot or Bob Rubin at CitiGroup; d) difference in abilities; not all of us can be Steve Jobs

  28. UncleMilty says:

    There is an important point that gets (intentionially?) lost when this data is presented. Everyone assumes the 1% are the same people year after year. Studies done that follow THE SAME people over long periods of time show that there is tremendous turnover in the highest levels of income. This is due to 1) a very dynamic US economy and 2) a tax system that increasingly relies on pass through entities.

    There is also a lot of turnover at the bottom. Think about it. How much did you make when you were 20? How about 30? How about 40? For most of us, we are making a lot more at 40 than we did at 20. But the data, when presented this way, would suggest there is something sinsiter at work. This doesn’t happen in China, or even in Europe as often as in the US. For this, we should be thankful…not resentful.

  29. beaufou says:

    Interesting that last time income inequality was so high, war ensued.
    Actually, you never hear about the role of bankers and financiers in the rise of Hitler.


    “But the data, when presented this way, would suggest there is something sinsiter at work. This doesn’t happen in China, or even in Europe as often as in the US. For this, we should be thankful…not resentful.”

    That’s a myth, the savings rate is higher in Europe and so is the disposable income, the US savings rate nowadays is as low as in 1933, the worst year of the depression.


  30. [...] case, do play around, it’s a fantastic resource with a massive database behind it. Thanks to Barry for the pointer! « Previous [...]

  31. Gnatman says:

    Timothy Noah penned a ten part series in SLATE about the Great Divergence. Same topic. The eye opener were the charts available at the start.


    Last chart shows linkage of income growth to each tier of income. Democrats effect is equal and better for all, but GOP skews to top brackets.

  32. Mick Lovin says:

    Damn the french!

  33. grcvegas says:

    The main take-away from these data sets I’d say is that all the wailing and gnashing going on about specific US policies “causing” and “fixing” top 1% inequality should be viewed very skeptically in the light of the fact most industrialized nations, with all their diverse public policies and tax regimes, have experienced the same inequality divergence as the US.

    Here’s another fine piece on this, with some excellent charts and more data/discussion:


    and UncleMilty is assuredly right in his comments above—if you follow the same people over time at the top making the wealth and those at the bottom without it–the changes do not mirror the data snapshots we are constantly bombarded with. The Pew Economic Mobility Project data show ZERO growth in top quintile (see page 4) for example:


    Anyway, we are talking income inequalites, or as Stiglitz likes to mention, wealth inequalites–but lifetime consumption inequalites is really the most important in measuring economic inequality. For example, two brothers work alongside each other as plumbers in their small business, both making $100K per annun for decades. One brother buys ever fancier houses and cars and vacations, pays for all his kid’s educations. He retires middle-class. Other brother saves and invests most of his money, keeps same old house and buys new cars only every 8 years, etc. He’s retires wealthy and is summarily targeted by the likes of Stiglitz and his ilk as “rich” and should be taxed to help the poor brother left behind in the “declining middle-class”.

  34. [...] case, do play around, it’s a fantastic resource with a massive database behind it. Thanks to Barry for the [...]

  35. [...] are not preparing for retirement; another finds that 44 percent will never invest again. But the top 1 percent are earning more income, and keeping more of it, than at any time since the 1920s. And household [...]