Working Paper No. 1121

Inheritance and Wealth Inequality: Evidence from Population Registers

Published: March 29, 2016Pages: 49Keywords: Bequests; Estates; Net worth; Inheritance taxation; Wealth distributionJEL-codes: H24; D63; E21

Inheritance and Wealth Inequality: Evidence from Population Registers Mikael Elinder, Oscar Erixson and Daniel Waldenström


We use new population-wide register data on inheritances and wealth in Sweden to estimate the causal impact of inheritances on wealth inequality. We find that inheritances reduce relative wealth inequality (e.g., the Gini coefficient falls by 5–10 percent) but that absolute dispersion increases. Examining different parts of the wealth distribution, we find that the top decile’s wealth share decreases substantially, whereas the wealth share of the bottom half increases from a negative to a positive share. In essence, wealthier heirs inherit larger amounts, but less wealthy heirs inherit more relative to their pre-inheritance wealth.

We also find that post-inheritance behavioral adjustments mitigate the equalizing effect of inheritances because less wealthy heirs consume larger shares of their inheritances. Moreover, we find that the Swedish inheritance tax reduced the equalizing inheritance effect but that the redistribution of tax revenues could reverse this result. Finally, we show that inheritances increase wealth mobility.

Daniel Waldenström

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Ph: +46 8 665 4584
Mob: +46 70 4916082
daniel.waldenstrom@if...

Mikael Elinder

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Ph: +46 18 471 1565
Mob: +46 70 769 0976
mikael.elinder@ifn.se

Interdisciplinary European Studies

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This book explores how the European Union responds to the ongoing challenges to the liberal international order. These challenges arise both within the EU itself and beyond its borders, and put into question the values of free trade and liberal democracy. 

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