NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Measuring Ancient Inequality

Branko Milanovic, Peter H. Lindert, Jeffrey G. Williamson

NBER Working Paper No. 13550
Issued in October 2007
NBER Program(s):   DAE   EFG

Is inequality largely the result of the Industrial Revolution? Or, were pre-industrial incomes and life expectancies as unequal as they are today? For want of sufficient data, these questions have not yet been answered. This paper infers inequality for 14 ancient, pre-industrial societies using what are known as social tables, stretching from the Roman Empire 14 AD, to Byzantium in 1000, to England in 1688, to Nueva EspaƱa around 1790, to China in 1880 and to British India in 1947. It applies two new concepts in making those assessments -- what we call the inequality possibility frontier and the inequality extraction ratio. Rather than simply offering measures of actual inequality, we compare the latter with the maximum feasible inequality (or surplus) that could have been extracted by the elite. The results, especially when compared with modern poor countries, give new insights in to the connection between inequality and economic development in the very long run.

download in pdf format
   (671 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (671 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13550

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Williamson w15305 Five Centuries of Latin American Inequality
Lindert and Williamson Does Globalization Make the World More Unequal?
Williamson w14766 History without Evidence: Latin American Inequality since 1491
Lindert and Williamson w17211 American Incomes before and after the Revolution
Atkinson, Piketty, and Saez w15408 Top Incomes in the Long Run of History
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us