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Top Incomes in Germany and Switzerland Over the Twentieth Century


  • Fabien Dell

    (INSEE and Paris-Jourdan,)


This paper presents new homogeneous series on top income shares in Germany (1891-1998) and Switzerland (1933-1995), using data from income tax returns. The general pattern is consistent with recent results for France: the secular decline in income inequality is for the most part an accidental, capital income phenomenon. Very top incomes were badly hurt by the major shocks of the 1914-1945 period and never fully recovered afterwards. Since 1945, top income shares have been relatively stable, with no rise during recent years (unlike in the U.S. The striking episode before WWII is how Nazi power brought top income shares to almost double within five years. The striking result after WWII is that German top incomes are more concentrated within the top decile than in other industrialized countries. Thus the German super-rich were richer than their American counterparts until the 1990s. This puzzle is related to the much lower inheritance tax rates observed in Germany since WWII. (JEL: N33, N34, H23, H24) Copyright (c) 2005 The European Economic Association.

Suggested Citation

  • Fabien Dell, 2005. "Top Incomes in Germany and Switzerland Over the Twentieth Century," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 412-421, 04/05.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:jeurec:v:3:y:2005:i:2-3:p:412-421

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    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N34 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: 1913-
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies


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