Impact of the 2008 Recession on Wealth-Adjusted Income and Inequality for U.S. Cohorts

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2022 Apr 1;77(4):780-789. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbab141.


Objective: To examine the distributional effects of the 2008 recession and subsequent recovery across generational cohorts.

Methods: Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (2007-2016), we constructed a measure of economic well-being accounting for income, household size, and annuitized value of assets. We examine trajectories of adjusted income and inequality, using Gini coefficients and income shares by decile, for the overall population and by cohort during the recession and recovery.

Results: Inequality declined temporarily during the recession, but reached new highs during the recovery. During recovery, population-level increases in economic resources were not reflected among below-median households, as the more concentrated financial assets rose while broader-based home equity and employment fell or remained stagnant. Inequality measures increased for cohorts in their primary working years (Generation-X and Baby Boomers), but not among the younger Millennials, who were at early stages of education, workforce entry, and household formation.

Discussion: The study illustrates an integrative approach to analyzing cumulative dis/advantage by considering interactions between historically consistent macrolevel events, such as economic shocks or policy choices affecting all cohorts, and the persistent life-course processes that tend to increase heterogeneity and inequality as cohorts age over time. Although recovery policies led to rapid recovery of financial asset values, they did not proportionately reach those below the median or their economic resource types. Results suggest that in a high-inequality environment, recovery policies from economic shocks may need tailoring to all levels of resources in order to achieve more equitable recovery outcomes and prevent exacerbating cohort inequality trajectories.

Keywords: Generational outcomes; Wealth distribution trends; Wealth inequality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Economic Recession
  • Educational Status
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Socioeconomic Factors