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Intergenerational Inequality and the Intergenerational State

Pension finances

James Mahmud Rice, Jeromey B. Temple and Peter F. McDonald

Abstract: Inequality between generations is a central feature of human societies. Moreover, many institutions have developed within human societies that mould and shape intergenerational inequality, including the state. Nevertheless, intergenerational inequality remains ill-defined as a concept and is rarely directly measured empirically. This paper examines intergenerational inequality – in particular, intergenerational inequality in income. In order to provide greater definition to the concept of intergenerational inequality, the paper introduces a new measure of intergenerational inequality: the IGI index. With this new index added to its methodological toolkit, the paper examines the empirical evidence on intergenerational inequality in income, as well as how the state works to alter intergenerational inequality through the redistributive effect of public transfers. The empirical evidence examined is drawn from the recently developed Australian National Transfer Accounts, which include data on the incomes and public transfers paid and received by different ages and generations in Australia during the 28-year time period between 1981–82 and 2009–10. The analyses presented suggest that there are substantial inequalities in the incomes received by different generations, with earlier generations generally receiving less income in real terms over their lifetimes than later generations. As the state has operated through time – receiving public transfers from some individuals and paying public transfers to others – it has worked to increase intergenerational inequality. This implies that the state has worked to decrease the incomes of earlier generations relative to those of later generations. In this way, the state could be described as exhibiting a bias in favour of later generations.

Keywords: Australia, government, income, inequality, intergenerational transfers, life cycle

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