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Income Inequality in France 1901-98


  • Piketty, Thomas


The objective of this research is to document and to explain trends in inequality in 20th century France. Data from income tax returns (1915-98), wage tax returns (1919-98) and inheritance tax returns (1902-94), is used in order to compute fully homogeneous, yearly estimates of income inequality, wage inequality and wealth inequality. The main conclusion is that the decline in income inequality that took place during the first half of the 20th century was mostly accidental. In France and possibly in a number of other developed countries as well wage inequality has actually been extremely stable in the long run, and the secular decline in income inequality is for the most part a capital income phenomenon. Holders of very large fortunes were severely hit by major shocks during the 1914-45 period, and were never able to fully recover from these shocks, probably because of the dynamic effects of progressive taxation on capital accumulation and pre-tax income inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Piketty, Thomas, 2001. "Income Inequality in France 1901-98," CEPR Discussion Papers 2876, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:2876

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34.
    2. repec:hrv:faseco:30703979 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. N. Gregory Mankiw, 2000. "The Savers-Spenders Theory of Fiscal Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 120-125, May.
    4. Daniel R. Feenberg & James M. Poterba, 1993. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High-Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 7, pages 145-177 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Lindert, Peter H., 2000. "Three centuries of inequality in Britain and America," Handbook of Income Distribution,in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3, pages 167-216 Elsevier.
    6. Morrisson, Christian, 2000. "Historical perspectives on income distribution: The case of Europe," Handbook of Income Distribution,in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 217-260 Elsevier.
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    Cited by:

    1. Saez, Emmanuel, 2013. "Optimal progressive capital income taxes in the infinite horizon model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 61-74.
    2. Eugene N. White & Filippo Occhino & Kim Oosterlinck, 2007. "How Occupied France Financed Its Own Exploitation in World War II," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 295-299, May.

    More about this item


    capital accumulation; income distribution; wage distribution;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • E25 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Aggregate Factor Income Distribution
    • N34 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: 1913-


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