Changes in Family Income over Time

Inequality in family incomes increased in each of the three decades from 1987 to 2017 as income grew fastest for those with higher incomes.

Figure 20A: Percentage Change in Inflation-Adjusted Mean Family Income by Quintile, 1987 to 1997, 1997 to 2007, and 2007 to 2017

Notes & Sources 

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2017 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Table F-1, Table F-3, Table F-5, and FINC-01; calculations by the authors.


  • In 2017, the average income for the highest 20% of families was 3.2 times as high as that for the middle 20% ($245,040 vs. $75,840 in 2017 dollars). It was just 2.6 times as high in 1987 ($167,390 vs. $64,000).
  • The average income for the middle 20% of families was 4.0 times as high as that for the lowest 20% ($75,840 vs. $18,940) in 2017. It was 3.6 times as high in 1987 ($64,000 vs. $17,610).
  • Unlike those with higher incomes, the 20% of families with the lowest incomes have not yet reached the prerecession (inflation-adjusted) income levels of their 2007 counterparts, although they have recovered some of the income lost during the recession.