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Comparing Income and Wealth Inequality in Pre-Industrial Economies: Lessons from 18th-Century Spain


  • Esteban A. Nicolini

    () (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)

  • Fernando Ramos Palencia

    () (Universidad Pablo de Olavide)


Most research on the history of inequality in pre-industrial economies has focused on either wealth or income. Characterizing the distribution of wealth (resp., income) is problematic owing to insufficient information about the distributionÕs low (resp., high) end. Because the sources and methodologies differ between these two approaches, their results are not readily comparable and it is difficult to establish links between the respective distributions that result. In this paper, we shall use a unique data set for different regions of Spain circa 1750 and present resultsÑthe first for any preÐ20thcentury economyÑon both income and wealth distributions for the same sample of households. Information on wealth and income is derived from (respectively) probate inventories and the Ensenada Cadastre. Our main findings are that poor households are not entirely absent from the data set of inventories, that a householdÕs position in the income distribution is strongly correlated with its position in the wealth distribution, and that increases in a householdÕs wealth are associated with less thanproportional increases in its income.

Suggested Citation

  • Esteban A. Nicolini & Fernando Ramos Palencia, 2016. "Comparing Income and Wealth Inequality in Pre-Industrial Economies: Lessons from 18th-Century Spain," Working Papers 0095, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
  • Handle: RePEc:hes:wpaper:0095

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Esteban A. Nicolini & Fernando Ramos Palencia, 2016. "Decomposing income inequality in a backward pre-industrial economy: Old Castile (Spain) in the middle of the eighteenth century," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 69(3), pages 747-772, August.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Wealth and Income Inequality in the Early Modern Period
      by guidoalfani in NEP-HIS blog on 2016-05-17 22:05:07

    More about this item


    inequality; income; wealth; Spain; probate inventories; Ensenada Cadastre;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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