Current and Historic Patterns in the Distribution of Income


Jeffrey Lashbrook, SUNY Brockport

Learning Goals


Learning outcomes for this assignment include honing analytical skills associated with generating, reading, and interpreting rudimentary forms of data analysis. Our goal is to interpret the information for a lay audience (e.g., write a summary that any newspaper reader could understand).


Social science research is often categorized by two of our major objectives-describe and analyze. The first simply tries to build a portrait of the way things are (or were) while the latter is concerned with trying to explain why things are the way they are. For this assignment, our objective is descriptive. We will answer the following 2 questions:

  1. What is the distribution of earnings among U.S. full-time workers, ages 25 and over, in the most recent year for which data are available?
  2. For instance, what percentage of these workers make 50-75K? How has this distribution changed in the post WWII era?
Context for Use

This exercise was developed for use in an upper-level sociology course. The exercise was presented as part of a unit to better understand the concepts of social class, wealth, and power by examining historical and contemporary data on financial resources, income and poverty.

Description and Teaching Materials

Please see File Attachment(s).

We've argued that societal stratification is "both a condition and a process" (Kerckhoff, 2000). The former captures what the distribution of valued resources (e.g., money, education) among other things look like in a society. The question, most simply, is 'who gets what'? In this exercise, we'll examine contemporary and historical data on financial resources.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity uses two customized data sets, one the 2000 Census and one from combining census information from 1950-1990. It guides students through data manipulation using WebCHIP software found at DataCounts!. To open WebCHIP with the dataset for the activity, please see instructions and links in the exercise documents under teaching materials. For more information on how to use WebCHIP, see the How To section on DataCounts!