Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Business and Economics



First Advisor

Dr. James P. Ziliak


My dissertation consists of three essays in which I document trends in earnings and income volatility, estimate potential causal mechanisms for changing volatility, and examine the long-term consequences of parental income volatility for children. In essay 2 I document trends in earnings and income volatility of individuals and families using matched data in the March Current Population survey from 1973 to 2009. Essay 3 advances the literature on volatility, using matched data from the CPS to identify demographic and labor market correlates of earnings volatility within education-birth year cohorts. This study collapses the cross-sectional CPS into a pseudo-panel and then estimates the association between earnings volatility and race, local economic activity, and industry, accounting for endogeneity and sample selection bias. In essay 4 I use data linked across generations in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to estimate the relationship between exposure to volatile income during childhood and a set of socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood. The empirical framework is an augmented intergenerational income mobility model that includes controls for income volatility.

I find that family income volatility rose by 38 percent over the past four decades, likely driven both by rising volatility of earnings and non means-tested non-labor income. Rising family income volatility occurs across race, education, and family structure. From essay 3, I find that individuals with lower mean earnings have higher earnings volatility. Earnings volatility is also weakly related to race, decreases when young and then rises while workers are still within prime working years. Industry and local economic conditions are significantly related to the occurrence of earnings volatility after accounting for education, though these links differ between men and women. Finally, when examining the intergenerational consequences of volatility, a weak negative association occurs between family income instability during childhood and adult educational outcomes in essay 4.



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