From 1969 to 1996, median household income rose a very modest 6.3 percent in constant dollars (from $33,072 to $35,172). At the same time, per capita income rose by a robust 51 percent in constant dollars (from $11,975 to $18,136). The two data series are not inconsistent, because the median simply identifies the income level of the household in the middle of the income distribution, while per capita income is calculated by dividing aggregate income by the total number of individuals in the universe. Although the two series are not inconsistent, the difference between the two is sufficiently large that an attempt to identify the reasons behind the difference seems useful. The material below will focus on changes in income inequality and changes in the size and composition of households as factors that help explain the different growth rates in the two income series.
Census statistics date back to 1790 and reflect the growth and change of the United States. Past census reports contain some terms that today’s readers may consider obsolete and inappropriate. As part of our goal to be open and transparent with the public, we are improving access to all Census Bureau original publications and statistics, which serve as a guide to the nation's history.