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Inherited vs self-made wealth: Theory & evidence from a rentier society (Paris 1872–1927)

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  • Piketty, Thomas
  • Postel-Vinay, Gilles
  • Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent

Abstract

We divide decedents into two groups: “rentiers" (whose wealth is smaller than the capitalized value of their inherited wealth) and “savers” (who consumed less than their labor income). Applying this split to a unique micro data set on inheritance and matrimonial property regimes, we find that Paris from 1872 to 1927 was a “rentier society”. Rentiers made up about 10% of the population of Parisians but owned 70% of aggregate wealth. Rentier societies thrive when the rate of return on private wealth r is larger than the growth rate g (say, r=4% vs g=2%). This was the case in the 19th and early 20th centuries and is likely to happen again in the 21st century. At the time, top successors’ capital income sustains living standards far beyond what labor income alone would permit.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 51 (2014)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 21-40

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:51:y:2014:i:c:p:21-40

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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

Related research

Keywords: Inherited wealth; Wealth inequality; Rentiers; Paris;

References

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  1. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1988. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 41-58, Spring.
  2. Le Bris, David & Hautcœur, Pierre-Cyrille, 2010. "A challenge to triumphant optimists? A blue chips index for the Paris stock exchange, 1854–2007," Financial History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 17(02), pages 141-183, October.
  3. Robert J. Lampman, 1962. "The Share of Top Wealth-Holders in National Wealth, 1922-56," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number lamp62-1, May.
  4. Modigliani, Franco, 1988. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers and Life Cycle Saving in the Accumulation of Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 15-40, Spring.
  5. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
  6. Marco Cagetti & Mariacristina De Nardi, 2005. "Wealth inequality: data and models," Working Paper Series WP-05-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  7. Modigliani, Franco, 1986. "Life Cycle, Individual Thrift, and the Wealth of Nations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 297-313, June.
  8. Thomas Piketty, 2011. "On the Long-Run Evolution of Inheritance: France 1820--2050," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(3), pages 1071-1131.
  9. Kotlikoff, Laurence J & Summers, Lawrence H, 1981. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers in Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 706-32, August.
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