Using both cross-sectional and panel data, this article revisits the evolution of the financial premium between 1970 and 2011 with a distributional approach. I report that above-market compensation was present in the finance sector in the 1970s, but concentrated mostly at the bottom of the earnings distribution. The financial premium observed since the 1980s, however, is largely driven by excessive compensation at the top, a development that increasingly contributes to the national concentration of earnings. Furthermore, the analysis suggests that the financial premium for top earners remained robust in the early 2000s, when deregulation slowed down, and in the aftermath of the recent financial meltdown. These findings are inconsistent with the account that the earnings differential is driven by unobserved skill difference and demand shocks but supportive of the institutional account of rising inequality.


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pp. 1-30
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