Many studies have estimated the effect of circumstances on income acquisition. Perhaps surprisingly, the fraction of inequality attributable to circumstances is usually quite small – in the advanced democracies, approximately 20%. One reason for this is the lack of data on circumstance variables in empirical research. Here, we argue that all behaviors and accomplishments of children should be considered the consequence of circumstances: that is, an individual should not be considered to be responsible for her choices before an age of consent is reached. Using two data sets that contain data on childhood accomplishments, other environmental circumstances and the income as an adult, we calculate that the fraction of income inequality due to circumstances in the US rises from 27% to 43% when accounting for childhood circumstances. In the UK it rises from 18% to 27%.
Hufe, Paul, Andreas Peichl, John Roemer and Martin Ungerer (2017), Inequality of income acquisition: the role of childhood circumstances, Social Choice and Welfare, 1-46. Download