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On the Distribution of Estates and the Distribution of Wealth: Evidence from the Dead

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  • Yonatan Berman
  • Salvatore Morelli

Abstract

Detailed information about the distribution of estates left at death has commonly served as the basis for the estimation of wealth distributions among the living via the mortality multiplier method. The application of detailed mortality rates by demographics and other determinants of mortality is crucial for obtaining an unbiased representation of the wealth distribution of the living. Yet, in this paper we suggest that a simplified mortality multiplier method, derived using average mortality rates and aggregate tabulations by estate size, may be sufficient to derive compelling estimates of wealth concentration. We show that the application of homogeneous multipliers leads to estimates that are close in level and trend to the concentration of wealth derived in the existing literature with the detailed mortality multiplier method for a variety of countries. The use of mortality rates graduated by estate size does not confute this finding. We also derive the general formal conditions for the similarity between the distributions of wealth of the living and estates at death and discuss the main caveats. These findings may unlock a wide array of aggregate estate tabulations, previously thought to be unusable, for estimating historical trends of wealth concentration.

Suggested Citation

  • Yonatan Berman & Salvatore Morelli, 2021. "On the Distribution of Estates and the Distribution of Wealth: Evidence from the Dead," NBER Working Papers 28546, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28546
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    1. Alvaredo, Facundo & Atkinson, Anthony B. & Morelli, Salvatore, 2018. "Top wealth shares in the UK over more than a century," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 162(C), pages 26-47.
    2. Bertrand Garbinti & Jonathan Goupille-Lebret & Thomas Piketty, 2021. "Accounting for Wealth-Inequality Dynamics: Methods, Estimates, and Simulations for France," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 620-663.
    3. Bertrand Garbinti & Jonathan Goupille-Lebret & Thomas Piketty, 2016. "Accounting for Wealth Inequality Dynamics: Methods, Estimates and Simulations for France (1800-2014)," Working Papers halshs-02794339, HAL.
    4. Paolo Acciari & Facundo Alvaredo & Salvatore Morelli, 2021. "The concentration of personal wealth in Italy 1995-2016," PSE Working Papers halshs-03226113, HAL.
    5. Paolo Acciari & Salvatore Morelli, 2020. "Wealth Transfers and Net Wealth at Death: Evidence from the Italian Inheritance Tax Records 1995–2016," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring Distribution and Mobility of Income and Wealth, pages 175-203, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Facundo Alvaredo & Bertrand Garbinti & Thomas Piketty, 2017. "On the Share of Inheritance in Aggregate Wealth: Europe and the USA, 1900–2010," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 84(334), pages 239-260, April.
    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. Thomas Piketty & Gabriel Zucman, 2014. "Capital is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700–2010," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 129(3), pages 1255-1310.
    9. 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;National Tax Journal, vol. 57(2), pages 445-487, June.
    10. Pamela Katic & Andrew Leigh, 2016. "Top Wealth Shares in Australia 1915–2012," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 62(2), pages 209-222, June.
    11. Bertrand Garbinti & Jonathan Goupille-Lebret & Thomas Piketty, 0. "Accounting for Wealth-Inequality Dynamics: Methods, Estimates, and Simulations for France," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 620-663.
    12. Shorrocks, A F, 1975. "The Age-Wealth Relationship: A Cross-Section and Cohort Analysis," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 57(2), pages 155-163, May.
    13. Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2016. "Editor's Choice Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 131(2), pages 519-578.
    14. Facundo Alvaredo & Bertrand Garbinti & Thomas Piketty, 2017. "On the Share of Inheritance in Aggregate Wealth: Europe and the USA, 1900–2010," Post-Print halshs-01509650, HAL.
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    Cited by:

    1. Paolo Acciari & Facundo Alvaredo & Salvatore Morelli, 2021. "The concentration of personal wealth in Italy 1995-2016," PSE Working Papers halshs-03226113, HAL.
    2. Mauricio De Rosa, 2022. "Accumulation, inheritance and wealth distribution: first estimates of the untold half," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 22-07, Instituto de Economía - IECON.
    3. Carranza, Rafael & De Rosa, Mauricio & Flores, Ignacio, 2023. "Wealth inequality in Latin America," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 119426, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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