Average Earned in Lifetime?

Is there any way to figure out what percentage of people earn below a certain value in their lifetime? I.e. if they start out working at 15k a year (at 2010 value) and retire 40 years later earning $55k, and had a linear bump in income each year, then we can say that they earned on average about $35k every year through their lifetime.

That is a very interesting question. The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (for U.S. data, as you may suspect) have various income figures available, but they are primarily snapshots at various points in time (i.e., cross-sectional data), as opposed to tracking specific individuals through time (i.e., panel data). You may be able to estimate lifetime income by using the median (or mean) values by age over time (e.g., use the median income for a 20 year old in 1970, for a 30 year old in 1980, etc.).

I am eager to hear if a wiser Doper has a better solution… :slight_smile:

I don’t know if this information would be available to the public, but it seems like the Social Security Administration would know. They keep track of how much money individuals make each year over their lifetimes. These figures wouldn’t be perfect because there are people either being paid in ways that are invisible to the SSA or who have income that is officially exempt from Social Security taxes, but they’d be pretty good.

Poking around on the SSA site, I’m not seeing any figures for the lifetime earnings of the average American worker. It may be there, but I don’t see it. The most relevant data I’m finding in their posted statistics is this table, showing the number of workers in 2006 with Social Security taxable earnings and what their combined taxable earnings actually were.

When in doubt about population statistics, ask the Census Bureau. This report, although focused on educational level, gives most of the information you’re looking for. I say “most” because they’re reporting earnings in constant, inflation adjusted dollars, while you, I think, are looking for data that are not adjusted for inflation. However, it would be easy enough to peg a year and de-adjust, as required.

Also, after a quick read, the report doesn’t seem to assign population numbers to subcategories; however, you can find those numbers here, also from the Census.

I am looking for inflation adjusted data, so that works. (Or prefer it, at least.)