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The Inheritance of Inequality in Pre-Modern Societies

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Conveners: Monique Borgerhoff Mulder (UC Davis) & Samuel Bowles (SFI and University of Siena)

Objective: To understand the long term dynamics of inequality, we have estimated the extent of intergenerational transmission of wealth and the degree of wealth inequality for 43 measures of embodied, relational and material wealth in a sample of 21 hunter-gatherer, horticultural, pastoralist and small-scale, agricultural, pre-modern societies. Our results, published in Science (30 October, 2009) and a special edition of Current Anthropology (2010), show a key role of both wealth inheritance and the institutions and norms that characterize these populations in structuring persistent inequality. We are currently expanding both our sample and the range of research questions relating to the evolution of human social systems.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0748881.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.