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Do wealth distributions follow power laws? Evidence from "rich lists"

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  • Michal Brzezinski

Abstract

We use data on wealth of the richest persons taken from the "rich lists" provided by business magazines like Forbes to verify if upper tails of wealth distributions follow, as often claimed, a power-law behaviour. The data sets used cover the world's richest persons over 1996-2012, the richest Americans over 1988-2012, the richest Chinese over 2006-2012 and the richest Russians over 2004-2011. Using a recently introduced comprehensive empirical methodology for detecting power laws, which allows for testing goodness of fit as well as for comparing the power-law model with rival distributions, we find that a power-law model is consistent with data only in 35% of the analysed data sets. Moreover, even if wealth data are consistent with the power-law model, usually they are also consistent with some rivals like the log-normal or stretched exponential distributions.

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Paper provided by arXiv.org in its series Papers with number 1304.0212.

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Date of creation: Mar 2013
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Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1304.0212

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Web page: http://arxiv.org/

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  1. Clementi, F. & Gallegati, M., 2005. "Power law tails in the Italian personal income distribution," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 350(2), pages 427-438.
  2. Sitabhra Sinha, 2005. "Evidence for Power-law tail of the Wealth Distribution in India," Papers cond-mat/0502166, arXiv.org.
  3. Ogwang, Tomson, 2013. "Is the wealth of the world’s billionaires Paretian?," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 392(4), pages 757-762.
  4. Clementi, F. & Di Matteo, T. & Gallegati, M., 2006. "The power-law tail exponent of income distributions," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 370(1), pages 49-53.
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