IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Unigeniture in an uncertain world


  • Paul L. E. Grieco

    () (Pennsylvania State University, 509 Kern Building, University Park, PA, 16802, USA)

  • Nicolas L. Ziebarth

    () (University of Iowa and NBER, W344 Pappajohn Business Building, 21 E. Market St, Iowa City, IA, 52242, USA)


We present a new theory and quantitative evidence on the incidence of unigeniture. Existing theories hypothesize some sort of indivisibility or increasing returns to scale in wealth to overcome the testator’s inclination toward equal sharing among heirs. Examining a micro-level data set of seventeenth-century English wills, we find that even after controlling for land and other presumed sources of increasing returns to scale and indivisibility, other variables such as financial wealth still correlate with the incidence of unigeniture. This leads us to propose a model where unigeniture is an efficient way to provide insurance against income shocks. An important implication of the theory is that observed unequal bequests are partially counteracted by ex post transfers. Therefore, inequality of bequests cannot be taken as evidence of inequality of consumption between heirs.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul L. E. Grieco & Nicolas L. Ziebarth, 2015. "Unigeniture in an uncertain world," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 9(2), pages 139-166, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:9:y:2015:i:2:p:139-166

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to journal subscribers

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item


    Unigeniture; Risk sharing; Inheritance;

    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:9:y:2015:i:2:p:139-166. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.