Unions and Inequality Over the Twentieth Century: New Evidence from Survey Data

NBER [access req’d]: Unions and Inequality Over the Twentieth Century: New Evidence from Survey Data. Henry S. Farber, Daniel Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko, Suresh Naidu. NBER Working Paper No. 24587 Issued in May 2018, “It is well-documented that, since at least the early twentieth century, U.S. income inequality has varied inversely with union density. But moving beyond this aggregate relationship has proven difficult, in part because of the absence of micro-level data on union membership prior to 1973. We develop a new source of micro-data on union membership, opinion polls primarily from Gallup (N ≈ 980, 000), to look at the effects of unions on inequality from 1936 to the present. First, we present a new time series of household union membership from this period. Second, we use these data to show that, throughout this period, union density is inversely correlated with the relative skill of union members. When density was at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s,…

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