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Capital shares and income inequality: Evidence from the long run


  • Bengtsson, Erik
  • Waldenström, Daniel


This paper investigates the relationship between the capital share in national income and personal income inequality over the long run. Using a new historical cross-country database on capital shares in 19 countries and data from the World Top Income Database, we find strong long-run links between the aggregate role of capital in the economy and the size distribution of income. Over time, this dependence varies; it was strong both before the Second World War and in the early interwar era, but has grown to its highest levels in the period since 1980. The correlation is particularly strong in Anglo-Saxon and Nordic countries, in the very top of the distribution and when we only consider top capital incomes. Replacing top income shares with a broader measure of inequality (Gini coefficient), the positive relationship remains but becomes somewhat weaker.

Suggested Citation

  • Bengtsson, Erik & Waldenström, Daniel, 2015. "Capital shares and income inequality: Evidence from the long run," CEPR Discussion Papers 11022, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:11022

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Milanovic, Branko, 2015. "Increasing capital income share and its effect on personal income inequality," MPRA Paper 67661, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Molero-Simarro, Ricardo, 2017. "Inequality in China revisited. The effect of functional distribution of income on urban top incomes, the urban-rural gap and the Gini index, 1978–2015," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 101-117.
    3. Caiani, Alessandro & Russo, Alberto & Gallegati, Mauro, 2016. "Does Inequality Hamper Innovation and Growth?," MPRA Paper 71864, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Bengtsson, Erik, 2016. "Inequality and the working class in Scandinavia 1800 to 1910 - Workers' share of growing income," Lund Papers in Economic History 142, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    5. D., Ivan, 2017. "Stability of the labour shares: evidence from OECD economies," MPRA Paper 79822, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    Inequality; Top incomes; Wage share;

    JEL classification:

    • D30 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - General
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

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