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

Listed author(s):
  • Thomas Piketty

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

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
Handle: RePEc:hal:psewpa:halshs-00564853
Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00564853v2
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  1. Fiaschi, Davide & Marsili, Matteo, 2012. "Distribution of wealth and incomplete markets: Theory and empirical evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(1), pages 243-267.
  2. Thomas Piketty & Gilles Postel-Vinay & Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, 2006. "Wealth concentration ina developing economy: Paris and France, 1807-1994," Post-Print halshs-00754643, HAL.
  3. Kopczuk, Wojciech & Saez, Emmanuel, 2004. "Top Wealth Shares in the United States, 1916-2000: Evidence From Estate Tax Returns," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 445-487, June.
  4. William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1994. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Accumulation of Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 145-160, Fall.
  5. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1988. "Intergenerational Transfers and Savings," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 41-58, Spring.
  6. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & James Sefton & Martin Weale, 1998. "Simulating the transmission of wealth inequality via bequests," Working Paper 9811, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  7. Arrondel, Luc & Laferrere, Anne, 2001. "Taxation and wealth transmission in France," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 3-33, January.
  8. 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 141-152, Summer.
  9. Marco Cagetti & Mariacristina De Nardi, 2005. "Wealth inequality: data and models," Working Paper Series WP-05-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Edward N. Wolff & Ajit Zacharias, 2006. "Household Wealth and the Measurement of Economic Well-Being in the United States," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_447, Levy Economics Institute.
  13. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2004. "Das Human Kapital: A Theory of the Demise of the Class Structure," GE, Growth, Math methods 0410003, EconWPA.
  14. Lena Edlund & Wojciech Kopczuk, 2007. "Women, Wealth and Mobility," NBER Working Papers 13162, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. repec:nsr:niesrd:99 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Roine, Jesper & Waldenström, Daniel, 2007. "Wealth Concentration over the Path of Development: Sweden, 1873–2006," Working Paper Series 722, Research Institute of Industrial Economics, revised 13 Jun 2008.
  17. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2007. "Bequest and Tax Planning: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1801-1854.
  18. Wojciech Kopczuk & Joseph P. Lupton, 2007. "To Leave or Not to Leave: The Distribution of Bequest Motives," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(1), pages 207-235.
  19. 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.
  20. Wolff, Edward N, 1989. "Trends in Aggregate Household Wealth in the U.S., 1900-83," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 35(1), pages 1-29, March.
  21. Makoto Nirei & Wataru Souma, 2007. "A Two Factor Model Of Income Distribution Dynamics," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 53(3), pages 440-459, 09.
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