There are many[Broken link] “info” graphics about income inequality in the United States. Measuring the combination of wealth and income that most humans care about is inherently tricky. If you measure wealth, then a computer programmer in his early twenties making a large quantity of money looks poorer than a 65-year-old janitor who has been dutifully saving for retirement for 45 years. If you measure income, then an 80-year-old former CEO might look poorer than a middle class worker. A lottery winner, who won 10 million dollars and then spent 6 million before he realized he owed 5 million in taxes, looks poor by either measure, except, for that year when he won the lottery where he looks richer than almost everyone else.

Is there a graph that looks at the distribution(among the population) of total income earned over one’s life? It would have to examine people of the same age, say 20, 30, 40 … 90 year olds.

Is there another way to measure wealth/income distribution that avoids these issues even better?

  • 2
    There have been several income mobility studies that have measured individuals income mobility. You have correctly identified the normal issues with income/wealth distribution reporting.
    – user1873
    May 16, 2014 at 14:57
  • Wealth = current total value. Your current total value includes all of your previous income. You're looking for a data subset of total wealth. Current income is your current rate of wealth accumulation. Either I don't understand what you are asking (a lottery winner earing 500k total the day before winning the lottery will still appear as 10.5MM the day after in your scenario) or you're looking for a very complex report. One that takes historical income/wealth by highly segmented demographics and then project current income/wealth estimates to do an inequality comparison.
    – David S
    Dec 10, 2021 at 23:07

1 Answer 1


Look into intergenerational mobility. There are a few studies such as Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States by NBER, which focus on the upward mobility of individuals at different stages of their life and what could effect the chances of mobility.

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