The tale of the tails: Canadian Income Inequality in the 1980s and 1990s Kevin Milligan ~ Vancouver School of Economics ~ University of British Columbia

The tale of the tails: Canadian Income Inequality in the 1980s and 1990s

with Marc Frenette and David Green
Canadian Journal of Economics, Vol. 40, No. 3 (August 2007), pp. 734-764.
Google Scholar entry.


We present new evidence on levels and trends in after-tax income inequality in Canada between 1980 and 2000. We argue that existing data sources may miss changes in the tails of the income distribution, and that much of the changes in the income distribution have been in the tails. For this reason, we turn to an alternative source. In particular, we construct data on after-tax and transfer income using Census files augmented with predicted taxes based on information available from administrative tax data. Using these data, we find that Canadian after-tax inequality levels are substantially higher than has been previously recognized, primarily because income levels are lower at the bottom of the distribution than in commonly used survey data. We also find larger long-term increases in after-tax income inequality and far more variability over the economic cycle. This raises interesting questions about the role of the tax and transfer system in mitigating both trends and fluctuations in market income inequality.


Published version, August, 2007: DOI.

Updated draft, November, 2006: PDF.

Statistics Canada Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series, no. 274, February, 2006: Abstract/Paper.

Programs for imputing taxes to the public-use Census files. May, 2006.

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