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

Naomi Zewde, Stephen Crystal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)780-789
Number of pages10
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


  • Generational outcomes
  • Wealth distribution trends
  • Wealth inequality


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