This article considers inequality in preindustrial societies, defined as those prior to the industrial revolution and subsequent non-industrial societies that are not systematically integrated into the advanced world’s economy. Although data on individual incomes and wealth in these societies are limited, increasingly they are becoming available. On the basis of these data, inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient is often on a par with modern industrialized societies, but the income gradient tends to be different, with a mass of people at subsistence level or marginally above, few at the mean, and a small affluent class. More work remains to be done, particularly on the relationship between income inequality and economic progress.
KeywordsGini coefficient Income distribution Inequality Kuznets curve Preindustrial societies
I am grateful to Mihail Arandarenko, Peter Lindert, Leandro Prados de la Escosura and Jeffrey Williamson for excellent comments.
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