Changes in Family Income over Time

Inequality in family incomes increased in each of the three decades from 1986 to 2016 as income grew faster for those with higher incomes.

Figure 17A: Percentage Change in Inflation-Adjusted Mean Family Income by Quintile, 1986 to 1996, 1996 to 2006, and 2006 to 2016

Figure 17A represents Percentage Change in Inflation-Adjusted Mean Family Income by Quintile, 1986 to 1996, 1996 to 2006, and 2006 to 2016. For a corresponding Section 508-compliant data table, download the Excel spreadsheet.

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.

  • Between 1986 and 2016, the average income for the highest 20% of families increased from 2.6 times as high as that for the middle 20% ($158,600 vs. $61,630) to 3.3 times as high ($239,490 vs. $72,900).
  • Between 1986 and 2016, the average income for the middle 20% of families increased from 3.6 times as high as that for the lowest 20% ($61,630 vs. $17,230) to 4.0 times as high ($72,900 vs. $18,200).
  • 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 2006 counterparts, although they have recovered some of the income lost during the recession.