Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Wealth transmission in small-scale socities

From ScienceDaily reportInequality, 'Silver Spoon' Effect Found In Ancient Societies:
"The researchers also showed that levels of inequality are influenced both by the types of wealth important to a society and the governing rules and regulations. Hunter-gatherers rely on their wits, social connections and strength to make a living. In these economies, wealth inheritance is modest because wits and social connections can be transferred only to a certain degree. The level of economic inequality in hunter-gatherer societies is on a par with the most egalitarian modern democratic economies."
Despite the ScienceDaily title, the study is based on 21 contemporary and recent populations. The populations studied are of four types hunter-gatherer, horticultural, pastoral, and agricultural populations (the main difference between hoticultural and agricultural seems to be the use of plough).

The paper (needs access)Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and the Dynamics of Inequality in Small-Scale Societies with supporting supplement online material is free access are in Science magazine. Rajib Khan has long post which has much material from the paper To crush your enemies, and steal their cattle for your sons! . The three of wealth transferred is categorized "embodied (body weight, grip strength, practical skills, and, in predemographic transition populations, reproductive success); material (land, livestock, and household goods); and relational (social ties in food-sharing networks and other forms of assistance)."
They do not consider other forms "heritable determinants of well-being such as ritual knowledge, an important source of institutionalized inequality in some populations." and it is not clear how much it applies to societies like Indian.
From the paper:
"Our principal conclusion is that there exist substantial differences among economic systems in the intergenerational transmission of wealth and that these arise because material wealth is more important in agricultural and pastoral societies and because, in these systems, material wealth is substantially more heritable than embodied and relational wealth. By way of comparison, the degree of intergenerational transmission of wealth in hunter-gatherer and horticultural populations is comparable to the intergenerational transmission of earnings in the Nordic social democratic countries (5)—the average β for earnings in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway is 0.18—whereas the agricultural and pastoral societies in our data set are comparable to economies in which inequalities are inherited most strongly across generations, the United States and Italy, where the average β for earnings is 0.43. Concerning wealth inequality, the Gini measure in the hunter-gatherer and horticultural populations is almost exactly the average of the Gini measure of disposable income for Denmark, Norway, and Finland (0.24); the pastoral and agricultural populations are substantially more unequal than the most unequal of the high-income nations, the United States, whose Gini coefficient is 0.37 (21). "
In the same issue, Acegmolu and Robinson explain their take on the paper Foundations of Societal Inequality:
"...results of Borgerhoff Mulder et al., which show substantial differences in inheritability of assets and inequality not only between, but also within hunter-gather, horticultural, pastoral, and agricultural societies."
They attribute to this to the difference in institutions "What makes the findings important for social science is the link between inequality and institutions that regulate the inheritability of assets."
P.S. A summary of the results is available in the papers section of:
(New Data on the Roots of Inequality Reveal Key Role of Wealth Inheritance)

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