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Wealth concentration in a developing economy : Paris and France, 1807-1994

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  • Thomas Piketty
  • Gilles Postel-Vinay
  • Jean-Laurent Rosenthal

Abstract

Using large samples of estate tax returns we construct new series on wealth concentration in Paris and France from 1807 to 1994. Wealth concentration in Paris and in France increased until World War I and then fell abruptly. The rise in inequality prior to WWI accelerated (rather than stabilized) during the 1860-1913 period. This was largely driven by the growth of large industrial and financial estates and coincided with the decline of aristocratic fortunes (until the 1840s, the share of aristocrats and real estate in top estates was actually rising). The decline in wealth concentration that followed World War I appears to have been prompted by the 1914-1945 shocks rather than by a two-sector, Kuznets-type process. Inequality fell both in Paris and in the rest of France. Finally, individuals who lived on capital income rather than active entrepreneurs were responsible for the very high levels of wealth concentration observed on the eve of World War I. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century top wealth holders were in their 70s and 80s, whereas they had been in their 50s in the early the nineteenth century and would be so again after WWII. These results shed new light on the ongoing debate about wealth inequality and growth in the presence of capital constraints.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Piketty & Gilles Postel-Vinay & Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, 2005. "Wealth concentration in a developing economy : Paris and France, 1807-1994," Research Unit Working Papers 0504, Laboratoire d'Economie Appliquee, INRA.
  • Handle: RePEc:lea:leawpi:0504
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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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    3. A. B. Atkinson, 2005. "Top incomes in the UK over the 20th century," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 168(2), pages 325-343, March.
    4. Lindert, Peter H, 1986. "Unequal English Wealth since 1670," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(6), pages 1127-1162, December.
    5. Andrea Brandolini & Anthony B. Atkinson, 2001. "Promise and Pitfalls in the Use of "Secondary" Data-Sets: Income Inequality in OECD Countries As a Case Study," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(3), pages 771-799, September.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    wealth concentration; inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • N20 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • H20 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - General

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