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Unequal Trajectories: Three Papers on Inequality over the Life Course

a PSC Small Fund Research Project

Investigator:   Siwei Cheng

My research integrates demographic, sociological and policy approaches to examine the development of earnings inequality over the life course. The three papers of my doctoral dissertation examine, both theoretically and empirically, the process through which inequality develops over individuals’ life courses. They will help bridge the microlevel (i.e. the individual) and macrolevel (i.e. the aggregate degree of inequality) patterns of earnings inequality.
The first paper of my dissertation draws on the life course perspective and establishes a life course trajectory framework for studying the intracohort pattern of wage inequality. First, I propose and conceptualize three essential properties of the LCT framework: (1) random variability property, (2) trajectory heterogeneity property, and (3) cumulative advantage property. Then, I established a mathematical formalization of the LCT framework based on these three essential properties. Finally, I apply the LCT framework to 12,099 individuals in the NLSY79 data using the multilevel growth curve model. The second paper follows the life course perspective and asks whether marriage affect men and women’s wage and wage growth over their life courses differently. Applying fixed-effect models to 103,392 person-year observations of the NLSY79 data, I found that (1) marriage is associated with higher rate of wage growth for men, yet lower rate of wage growth for women. As a result, the relative wage advantage for married men over married women accumulates gradually over the life course; (2) the positive association between marriage and wage growth for men is mainly attributable to work experience while the negative association between marriage and wage growth for women is mainly attributable to childbearing. The third chapter will combine the older (1979) and younger (1997) cohorts of the earlier-mentioned NLSY data to examine whether the pattern of life course earnings trajectory has changed over the past decades. The older cohort (born around year 1960) and younger cohort (born in the early 1980s) experienced different phases of the American labor market, and I will explore the implications of these macrolevel trends for the cohort changes in the pattern of individuals’ life course earnings trajectories.

Funding Period: 11/01/2013 to 12/31/2014

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