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Published June 2002 | public
Journal Article

Real inequality in Europe since 1500


Introducing a concept of real, as opposed to nominal, inequality of income or wealth suggests some historical reinterpretations, buttressed by a closer look at consumption by the rich. The purchasing powers of different income classes depend on how relative prices move. Relative prices affected real inequality more strongly in earlier centuries than in the twentieth. Between 1500 and about 1800, staple food and fuels became dearer, while luxury goods, especially servants, became cheaper, greatly widening the inequality of lifestyles. Peace, industrialization, and globalization reversed this inegalitarian price effect in the nineteenth century, at least for England.

Additional Information

© 2002 The Economic History Association. Published online: 01 June 2002. A fuller version of this article is available as University of California, Davis, Agricultural History Center Working Paper no. 102, October 2000, available online through http://aghistory.ucdavis.edu; it is cited here as "WP." The authors thank Gregory Clark, Jeffrey Williamson, seminar participants at Arild and Davis, and the referees for helpful suggestions.

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