The Shifting Life Course Patterns of Wage Inequality

Siwei Cheng

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Prior inequality literature has mainly focused on the period trends of inequality. This paper advances this literature by adopting a cohort approach to examine the age and cohort patterns of wage inequality. Employing a trajectory-based analytic framework to analyze almost 50 years of longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, I found that the life course patterns of inequality among American men have shifted across cohorts on both aggregate level and microlevel. The cumulative wage advantage associated with higher educational attainment has become more important across cohorts. Wage volatility has increased from earlier to later cohorts and the trend varies by age. The increase in volatility occurred first among mid-career workers and then among early-career workers. Additional analysis suggests that these cohort shifts differ by educational and occupational groups. The findings highlight the value of a cohort and life course approach for studying the process of social stratification.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-28
    Number of pages28
    JournalSocial Forces
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Anthropology
    • Sociology and Political Science


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