Research / BFI Working PaperJun 12, 2023

The Spillover Effects of Top Income Inequality

Joshua Gottlieb, David Hémous, Jeffrey Hicks, Morten Olsen

Top income inequality in the United States has increased considerably within occupations. This phenomenon has led to a search for a common explanation. We instead develop a theory where increases in income inequality originating within a few occupations can “spill over” through consumption into others. We show theoretically that such spillovers occur when an occupation provides non- divisible services to consumers, with physicians our prime example. Examining local income inequality across U.S. regions, the data suggest that such spillovers exist for physicians, dentists, and real estate agents. Estimated spillovers for other occupations are consistent with the predictions of our theory.

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