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On the long-run evolution of inheritance: France 1820-2050

  • Thomas Piketty

    (PSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - CNRS : UMR8545 - École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) - École des Ponts ParisTech (ENPC) - École normale supérieure [ENS] - Paris - Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), EEP-PSE - Ecole d'Économie de Paris - Paris School of Economics - Ecole d'Économie de Paris)

This paper 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% vs. g=1%-2%), which was the case in the 19th century and early 20th century and is likely to happen again in the 21st century, then past wealth and inheritance are bound to play a key role for aggregate wealth accumulation and the structure of lifetime inequality. Contrarily to a widely spread view, modern economic growth did not kill inheritance.

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Paper provided by HAL in its series PSE Working Papers with number halshs-00564853.

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Date of creation: May 2010
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Handle: RePEc:hal:psewpa:halshs-00564853
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  1. Marco Cagetti & Mariacristina De Nardi, 2006. "Wealth Inequality: Data and Models," NBER Working Papers 12550, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez, 2004. "Top Wealth Shares in the United States: 1916-2000: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 10399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Laurent E. Calvet & John Y. Campbell & Paolo Sodini, 2008. "Fight or Flight? Portfolio Rebalancing by Individual Investors," NBER Working Papers 14177, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. Kessler, Denis & Masson, Andre, 1989. "Bequest and Wealth Accumulation: Are Some Pieces of the Puzzle Missing?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 141-52, Summer.
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