Inheritance and Egalitarianism

(With Hanno Hilbig)


Why are some societies more egalitarian than others? This paper argues that equitable inheritance—the equal division of property among heirs—helps explain why some societies endorse egalitarianism. Using a novel geographic discontinuity matching design that exploits historic variation in inheritance customs in Western Germany, we find that  more egalitarian parties fare better in communities where inheritance is equitably divided. We assess three mechanisms that may underlie this relation: economic equality, income, and fairness preferences. Using individual-level survey data and micro-level tax records, we show that preferences are the most plausible mechanism that links equitable inheritance to egalitarianism.