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Intergenerational Wealth Transmission among Agriculturalists Foundations of Agrarian Inequality

Publication Abstract

Shenk, M.K., M.B. Mulder, J. Beise, G. Clark, W. Irons, D. Leonetti, Bobbi Low, S. Bowles, T. Hertz, A. Bell, and P. Piraino. 2010. "Intergenerational Wealth Transmission among Agriculturalists Foundations of Agrarian Inequality." Current Anthropology, 51(1): 65-83.

This paper uses data from eight past and present societies practicing intensive agriculture to measure the transmission of wealth across generations in preindustrial agricultural societies. Focusing on embodied, material, and relational forms of wealth, we compare levels of wealth between parents and children to estimate how effectively wealth is transmitted from one generation to the next and how inequality in one generation impacts inequality in the next generation. We find that material wealth is by far the most important, unequally distributed, and highly transmitted form of wealth in these societies, while embodied and relational forms of wealth show much weaker importance and transmission. We conclude that the unique characteristics of material wealth, and especially wealth in land, are key to the high and persistent levels of inequality seen in societies practicing intensive agriculture. We explore the implications of our findings for the evolution of inequality in the course of human history and suggest that it is the intensification of agriculture and the accompanying transformation of land into a form of heritable wealth that may allow for the social complexity long associated with agricultural societies.

DOI:10.1086/648658 (Full Text)

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