An Empirical Investigation of Labor Income Processes

Fatih Guvenen

NBER Working Paper No. 13394
Issued in September 2007
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Labor Studies, Public Economics

In this paper we reassess the evidence on labor income risk. There are two leading views on the nature of the income process in the current literature. The first view, which we call the "Restricted Income Profiles" (RIP) process, holds that individuals are subject to large and very persistent shocks, while facing similar life-cycle income profiles. The alternative view, which we call the "Heterogeneous Income Profiles" (HIP) process, holds that individuals are subject to income shocks with modest persistence, while facing individual-specific income profiles.We first show that ignoring profile heterogeneity, when in fact it is present, introduces an upward bias into the estimates of persistence. Second, we estimate a parsimonious parameterization of the HIP process that is suitable for calibrating economic models. The estimated persistence is about 0.8 in the HIP process compared to about 0.99 in the RIP process. Moreover, the heterogeneity in income profiles is estimated to be substantial, explaining between 56 to 75 percent of income inequality at age 55. We also find that profile heterogeneity is substantially larger among higher educated individuals. Third, we discuss the source of identification -- in other words, the aspects of labor income data that allow one to distinguish between the HIP and RIP processes. Finally, we show that the main evidence against profile heterogeneity in the existing literature -- that the autocorrelations of income changes are small and negative -- is also replicated by the HIP process, suggesting that this evidence may have been misinterpreted.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13394


  • Fatih Guvenen, 2008. "Code and data files for "An Empirical Investigation of Labor Income Processes"," Computer Codes 06-15, Review of Economic Dynamics.
  • Fatih Guvenen, 2009. "An Empirical Investigation of Labor Income Processes," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 12(1), pages 58-79, January. citation courtesy of

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