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On the Long-Run Evolution of Inheritance: France 1820-2050


  • Thomas Piketty

    (PSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - INRA - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, PSE - Paris School of Economics)


This article attempts to document and account for the long-run evolution of inheritance. We find that in a country like France the annual flow of inheritance was about 20-25% of national income between 1820 and 1910, down to less than 5% in 1950, and back up to about 15% by 2010. A simple theoretical model of wealth accumulation, growth, and inheritance can fully account for the observed U-shaped pattern and levels. Using this model, we find that under plausible assumptions the annual bequest flow might reach about 20-25% of national income by 2050. This corresponds to a capitalized bequest share in total wealth accumulation well above 100%. Our findings illustrate the fact that when the growth rate g is small, and when the rate of return to private wealth r is permanently and substantially larger than the growth rate (say, r = 4-5% versus g = 1-2%), which was the case in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century and is likely to happen again in the twenty-first century, then past wealth and inheritance are bound to play a key role for aggregate wealth accumulation and the structure of lifetime inequality. Contrary to a widespread view, modern economic growth did not kill inheritance.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Piketty, 2011. "On the Long-Run Evolution of Inheritance: France 1820-2050," Post-Print halshs-00754528, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:halshs-00754528
    DOI: 10.1093/qje/qjr020
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Arrondel, Luc & Laferrere, Anne, 2001. "Taxation and wealth transmission in France," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 3-33, January.
    2. Céline Antonin, 2009. "Age, revenu et comportements d'épargne des ménages : une analyse théorique et empirique sur la période 1978-2006," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/5l6uh8ogmqi, Sciences Po.
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    5. Laurent E. Calvet & John Y. Campbell & Paolo Sodini, 2009. "Fight or Flight? Portfolio Rebalancing by Individual Investors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 301-348.
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    7. Thomas Piketty & Gilles Postel-Vinay & Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, 2006. "Wealth Concentration in a Developing Economy: Paris and France, 1807–1994," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 236-256, March.
    8. Edward Wolff & Ajit Zacharias, 2009. "Household wealth and the measurement of economic well-being in the United States," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 7(2), pages 83-115, June.
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    16. Gokhale, Jagadeesh & Kotlikoff, Laurence J. & Sefton, James & Weale, Martin, 2001. "Simulating the transmission of wealth inequality via bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 93-128, January.
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    18. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1988. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 41-58, Spring.
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    22. Luc Arrondel & Anne Laferrère, 1994. "La transmission des grandes fortunes. Profil des riches défunts en France," Économie et Statistique, Programme National Persée, vol. 273(1), pages 41-52.
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    JEL classification:

    • D20 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - General


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