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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Piketty, Thomas & Postel-Vinay, Gilles & Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent, 2014. "Inherited vs self-made wealth: Theory & evidence from a rentier society (Paris 1872–1927)," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 21-40.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:51:y:2014:i:c:p:21-40
    DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2013.07.004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Guido Alfani, 2017. "The rich in historical perspective: evidence for preindustrial Europe (ca. 1300–1800)," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 11(3), pages 321-348, September.
    2. Kesztenbaum, Lionel & Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent, 2017. "Sewers’ diffusion and the decline of mortality: The case of Paris, 1880–1914," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 174-186.
    3. Bönke, Timm & Werder, Marten v. & Westermeier, Christian, 2017. "How inheritances shape wealth distributions: An international comparison," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 217-220.

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    Keywords

    Inherited wealth; Wealth inequality; Rentiers; Paris;

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