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Estimating historical inequality from social tables: Towards Methodological Consistency

Dieter von Fintel, Calumet Links () and Erik Green
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Calumet Links: Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University

No 01/2023, Working Papers from Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics

Abstract: Research on long-term historical inequality has expanded to include previously neglected periods and societies, particularly in the global South. This is partly due to the resurgence of the social tables method in economic history, an approach which uses archival records to reconstruct income and wealth distributions in contexts where micro data is unavailable. This method can cause a downward bias in estimating inequality, but there is limited evidence of this bias in economic history. We collected a new data set of 108 historical social tables spanning over a 1000 years. We found that the compilers consistently made careful methodological choices that took data limitations into account. We found that the inequality estimates are not systematically related to the number of classes chosen or the size of the top class, but that choosing bottom classes that bundle together even small variations in income or wealth can introduce a downward bias to the inequality estimates. This drawback can be overcome by using methodological cohesion to mitigate the problem of limited information about the poorest classes in colonial archives.

Keywords: Social tables; Gini; inequality; pre-industrial; grouped data (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C13 C18 N30 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2023
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-des, nep-his and nep-mac
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https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2023/wp012023/wp012023.pdf First version, 2023 (application/pdf)

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Working Paper: Estimating Historical Inequality from Social Tables: Towards Methodological Consistency (2023) Downloads
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