Economic History Workshop - Where is the Middle Class? Inequality, Gender and the Shape of the Upper Tail from 45 million English Death and Probate Records, 1892-1992

Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2018, 1600 - 1730

Venue: Asia Global Institute, MB 328, 3/F Main Building, HKU

Neil Cummins of LSE analyses a newly constructed individual level dataset of every English death and probate from 1892-1992. The estimated top wealth shares match closely existing estimates. However, his analysis clearly shows that the 20th century’s ‘Great Equalization’ of wealth stalled in mid-century. The probate rate, which captures the proportion of English with any significant wealth at death rose from 10% in the 1890s to 40% by 1950 and has stagnated to 1992. Despite the large declines in the wealth share of the top 1%, from 73% to 20%, the median English person died with almost nothing throughout. All changes in inequality after 1950 involve a reshuffling of wealth within the top 30%. Further, it is found that a log-linear distribution fits the empirical data better than a Pareto power law. Finally, his study shows that the top wealth shares are increasingly and systematically male as one ascends in wealth, 1892-1992, but this has equalized over the 20th century.

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Neil Cummins
Associate Professor of Economic History
London School of Economics

Speaker’s Biography:

Over the course of the past half millennium social, cultural, economic and demographic revolutions have changed the human experience beyond ”Nasty, brutish and short”. The factors behind these monumental changes are still mysterious, particularly at the micro-economic level. Neil’s research aims to generate answers for many of the burning questions regarding the origin of the Modern World.

Neil works at the intersection of ‘big data’ and economic history. Most of his research projects involve exploiting recently digitized historical genealogical data to answer questions about the origin of modern economic and demographic behavior. Recently, he has examined fertility decline in France and England, plague mortality in 17th century London and social mobility over the long run.