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The Deep Roots of Inequality

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  • Kumon, Yuzuru

Abstract

This paper uses a new dataset of Japanese village censuses, 1637-1872, to measure inequality in landownership. Surprisingly, lands were relatively equally distributed, and most peasants were de-facto landowners. Further, there was no trend in wealth inequality. This contrasts with Western Europe where wealth inequality was high and increasing. To explain this, I use a linked multi-generational dataset of village censuses to study land transmissions. I find that Japanese households differed from Europeans due to widespread adoption of male heirs when reproduction failed. As non-marginal landowners almost always had an heir, lands were kept in the family. In contrast, elite English male lines failed 25% of the time leading to a highly unequal redistribution of their lands via will or marriage of heiresses. Finally, the institutional differences in adoption had roots in church policy in the 4th century and this may partially explain why Western Europe was more unequal by 1800.

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  • Kumon, Yuzuru, 2021. "The Deep Roots of Inequality," IAST Working Papers 21-125, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
  • Handle: RePEc:tse:iastwp:126149
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    Cited by:

    1. Kumon, Yuzuru, 2022. "How Landownership Equality Created a Low Wage Society: Pre-industrial Japan, 1600-1870," IAST Working Papers 22-138, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
    2. Kumon, Yuzuru & Sakai, Kazuho, 2022. "Women's Wages and Empowerment : Pre-industrial Japan, 1600-1890," CEI Working Paper Series 2022-05, Center for Economic Institutions, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
    3. Yuzuru Kumon, 2022. "Rich Europe, poor Asia: How wealth inequality, demography, and crop risks explain the poverty of pre‐industrial East Asia, 1300–1800," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 62(2), pages 161-168, July.

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