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The distribution of wealth

In: Handbook of Income Distribution


  • Davies, James B.
  • Shorrocks, Anthony F.


This chapter is concerned with the distribution of personal wealth, which usually refers to the material assets that can be sold in the marketpace, although on occasion pension rights are also included. We summarise the available evidence on wealth distribution for a number of countries. This confirms the well known fact that wealth is more unequally distributed than income, and points to a long term downward trend in wealth inequality over most of the twentieth century. We also review the various theories that help account for these feature. Lifecycle accumulation is one popular explanation of wealth differences, but inheritance is also widely recognised as playing a major role, especially at the upper end of the wealth range. A recurrent theme in work on wealth distribution is the relative importance of these two sources of wealth differences. We discuss the results of studies that assess the contributions of inheritance and lifecycle factors, and give attention also to a variety of related issues, such as the link between wealth status across generations, and the possible motives for leaving bequests.

Suggested Citation

  • Davies, James B. & Shorrocks, Anthony F., 2000. "The distribution of wealth," Handbook of Income Distribution, in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 11, pages 605-675, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:incchp:1-11

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    JEL classification:

    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration


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