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The Comfortable, the Rich, and the Super-rich. What Really Happened to Top British Incomes During the First Half of the Twentieth Century?

We examine shifts in British income inequality and their causes between 1911 and 1949. Newly re-discovered Inland Revenue 1911 estimates and more detailed data from subsequent official income distribution enquiries are used to show that income was substantially more concentrated at the top of the income distribution in 1911 than previous estimates suggest, and that the top 1 per cent ere the principal “losers” in the subsequent trend towards reduced income inequality. We find that this trend reflected a sharp decline in top “unearned” incomes - paralleling the findings of Piketty and Saez for France and the USA. This explains the paradox between the observed reduction in British income inequality and the lack of evidence for any substantial redistribution of income between salary and wage-earners.

Keywords: Income inequality, United Kingdom

JEL Classifications: H26, H87, E21

Published on 22nd October 2018
Authors Professor Peter Scott, Prof James T Walker
Series Reference JHD-2018-07