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Wealth Concentration in a Developing Economy: Paris and France, 1807-1994

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

Abstract

We use large samples of estate tax returns to construct new series on wealth concentration in Paris and France from 1807 to 1994. Wealth concentration in Paris and in France increased until World War I and then fell abruptly. The rise in inequality prior to WWI accelerated (rather than stabilized) during the 1860-1913 period. This was largely driven by the growth of large industrial and financial estates and coincided with the decline of aristocratic fortunes (until 1857, the share of aristocrats and real estate in top estates was actually rising). The decline in wealth concentration that followed World War I appears to have been prompted by the 1914-1945 shocks rather than by a two-sector, Kuznets-type process. Inequality fell both in Paris and in the rest of France. Finally, the very high levels of wealth concentration observed on the eve of World War I were associated with individuals who lived off capital income rather than active entrepreneurs. In particular, the age profile of wealth looks markedly different around 1900-1913 than in other periods. At that time top wealth holders were in their 70s and 80s, whereas they had been in their 50s at the beginning of the nineteenth century and would be so again at the end of the twentieth century. These results shed new light on the ongoing debate about wealth inequality and growth in the presence of capital constraints.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 4631.

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Date of creation: Sep 2004
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4631

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Keywords: income distribution;

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  1. A. B. Atkinson, 2005. "Top incomes in the UK over the 20th century," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 168(2), pages 325-343.
  2. Lindert, Peter H., 2000. "Three centuries of inequality in Britain and America," Handbook of Income Distribution, in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3, pages 167-216 Elsevier.
  3. Morrisson, Christian, 2000. "Historical perspectives on income distribution: The case of Europe," Handbook of Income Distribution, in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 217-260 Elsevier.
  4. Andrea Brandolini & Anthony B. Atkinson, 2001. "Promise and Pitfalls in the Use of "Secondary" Data-Sets: Income Inequality in OECD Countries As a Case Study," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(3), pages 771-799, September.
  5. Lindert, Peter H, 1986. "Unequal English Wealth since 1670," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(6), pages 1127-62, December.
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