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
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.