DP13436 Where is the Middle Class? Inequality, Gender and the Shape of the Upper Tail from 60 million English Death and Probate Records, 1892-2016

Author(s): Neil Cummins
Publication Date: January 2019
Keyword(s): Big Data, economic history, inequality
JEL(s): D31, N00, N33, N34
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=13436

This paper analyses a newly constructed individual level dataset of every English death and probate from 1892-2016. The estimated top wealth shares match closely existing estimates. However, this 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 2016. 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, I find that a log-linear distribution fits the empirical data better than a Pareto power law. Finally, I show 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.