September 22, 2020, 14:00–15:00
Room Zoom Meeting
This paper uses a new dataset to compare pre-industrial landownership inequality in East Asia and Western Europe over the very long-run, 1300-1930. Surprisingly, lands were relatively equally distributed in East Asia where most peasants were de-facto landowners unlike their Western counterparts who were mostly landless. I then use a linked dataset of village landownership in Japan, 1752-1869, spanning multiple generations to study how wealth transmissions contributed to greater equality. I find that Japanese households widely adopted heirs when reproduction failed which kept wealth in the family. Adoption was also widely practiced in Europe until the 5th century when the church began preaching against it leading to an institutional divergence. Consequently, one quarter of English elite male lines failed per generation, 1200-1900, which led to their wealth being concentrated in surviving male lines via marriage or will. Thus, adoption can partially explain why Western Europe was more unequal than East Asia.