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Land Markets and Inequality: Evidence from Medieval England



The 13th century witnessed a substantial increase in inequality in the distribution of peasant landholdings relative to the distribution of the late 11th century. Innovations in property rights over land in 12th century England induced peasants to include the trading of small parcels of land as part of their risk coping strategy. We argue that these events are related. Recent theoretical work in development economics has explored the relationship between inequality and asset markets. When agents are able to trade productive assets to manage risk, the resulting dynamics may generate increasing inequality over time. We employ a simulation strategy to analyze the impact of land markets in generating inequality in 13th century landholdings. We find that the dominant factor contributing to the unequal distribution of land was the interaction between emerging land markets and population growth driven by high fertility rates in households with large landholdings.

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  • Cliff T. Bekar & Clyde G. Reed, 2012. "Land Markets and Inequality: Evidence from Medieval England," Discussion Papers dp12-14, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
  • Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp12-14

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jean-Marie Baland & Frederic Gaspart & Jean-Philippe Platteau & Frank Place, 2007. "The Distributive Impact of Land Markets in Uganda," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55, pages 283-311.
    2. Fenoaltea, Stefano, 1975. "Authority, Efficiency, and Agricultural Organization in Medieval England and Beyond: A Hypothesis," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 35(04), pages 693-718, December.
    3. Oded Galor & Joseph Zeira, 1993. "Income Distribution and Macroeconomics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 35-52.
    4. Botticini, Maristella, 1999. "A Loveless Economy? Intergenerational Altruism and the Marriage Market in a Tuscan Town, 1415–1436," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(01), pages 104-121, March.
    5. David de la Croix & Matthias Doepke, 2003. "Inequality and Growth: Why Differential Fertility Matters," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(4), pages 1091-1113, September.
    6. Zimmerman, Frederick J. & Carter, Michael R., 2003. "Asset smoothing, consumption smoothing and the reproduction of inequality under risk and subsistence constraints," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 233-260, August.
    7. Nathan Sussman, 2006. "Income Inequality in Paris in the Heyday of the Commercial Revolution," DEGIT Conference Papers c011_043, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
    8. Dyer,Christopher, 1989. "Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521272155, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ogilvie, Sheilagh & Carus, A.W., 2014. "Institutions and Economic Growth in Historical Perspective," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 8, pages 403-513 Elsevier.

    More about this item


    Economic History; Land Market; Hundred Rolls; Domesday; inequality; risk; poverty; asset markets; simulation analysis; economic development;

    JEL classification:

    • N23 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N53 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts

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