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The rich in historical perspective: evidence for preindustrial Europe (ca. 1300–1800)

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  • Guido Alfani

    () (Bocconi University, Dondena Centre and IGIER)

Abstract

Abstract This article provides an overview of long-term changes in the relative conditions of the rich in preindustrial Europe. It covers four pre-unification Italian states (Sabaudian State, Florentine State, Kingdom of Naples and Republic of Venice) as well as other areas of Europe (Low Countries, Catalonia) during the period 1300–1800. Three different kinds of indicators are measured systematically and combined in the analysis: headcount indexes, the share of the top rich, and richness indexes. Taken together, they suggest that overall, during the entirety of the early modern period the rich tended to become both more prevalent and more distanced from the other strata of society. The only period during which the opposite process took place was the late Middle Ages, following the Black Death epidemic of the mid-fourteenth century. In the period from ca. 1500 to 1800, the prevalence of the rich doubled. In the Sabaudian State, the Florentine State and the Kingdom of Naples, for which reconstructions of regional wealth distributions exist, in about the same period the share of the top 10 % grew from 45–55 to 70–80 %—reaching almost exactly the same level which has recently been suggested as the European average at 1810. Consequently, the time series presented here might be used to add about five centuries of wealth inequality trends to current debates on very long-term changes in the relative position of the rich.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:cliomt:v:11:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11698-016-0151-8
    DOI: 10.1007/s11698-016-0151-8
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    Cited by:

    1. Alfani, Guido & Tadei, Federico, 2017. "Income Inequality In Colonial Africa: Building Social Tables For Pre-Independence Central African Republic, Ivory Coast And Senegal," African Economic History Working Paper 33/2017, African Economic History Network.
    2. repec:bla:ehsrev:v:71:y:2018:i:1:p:3-30 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Luigi Cannari & Giovanni D’Alessio, 2018. "Wealth inequality in Italy: reconstruction of 1968-75 data and comparison with recent estimates," Questioni di Economia e Finanza (Occasional Papers) 428, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Economic inequality; Wealth concentration; Richness; Top wealthy; Middle ages; Early modern period; Italy; Low Countries; Catalonia; Black Death; Property structures;

    JEL classification:

    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution

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