Associate Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics.

Research: Life, love and death. The trivial stuff.

Methods combine Economic logic and historical sources with big data analytics. Research papers are below.

Greg Clark and I collaborate on Families of England

n.j.cummins@lse.ac.uk
google scholar

Papers

with Greg Clark

Lifespans of the Elite, 800-1800

Video

I analyse the age at death of 121,524 European nobles from 800 to 1800. Adult Lifespan is around 50 from 800 to 1400, rises after 1400 to 55 and rises again after 1650. Violent deaths collapse among European nobility in the 1500s. Plague kills noble women at a higher rate than men. Median age at death is always lower in the East and South of the continent. This pattern has existed since 1000. These findings have implications for theories that seek to explain the rise of the West.

Is Most Wealth Inherited or Created? England, 1858-2012✣

To estimate the share of inherited wealth in total wealth, we employ a sample of English families with rare surnames over the period from 1858 to 2012. By looking at the total wealth of the rare surname families by generation we can estimate an upper bound of the share of inherited wealth relative to all wealth. We find that at maximum only 43% of the capital stock in any generation derived from inheritance, with 57% created de novo.

Living Standards and Plague in London, 1560-1665

with Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda

This article uses individual records of 930,000 burials and 630,000 baptisms to reconstruct the spatial and temporal patterns of birth and death in London from 1560 to 1665. The plagues of 1563, 1603, 1625, and 1665 appear of roughly equal magnitude, with deaths running at five to six times their usual rate, but the impact on wealthier central parishes falls markedly through time. Tracking the weekly spread of plague, we find no evidence that plague emerged first in the docks, and in many cases elevated mortality emerges first in the poor northern suburbs.

Surnames and Social Mobility✣

To what extent do parental characteristics explain child social outcomes? Typically, parent-child correlations in socioeconomic measures are in the range 0.2-0.6. Surname evidence suggests, however, that the intergenerational correlation of overall status is much higher. This paper shows, using educational status in England 1170-2012 as an example, that the true underlying correlation of social status is in the range 0.75-0.85. Social status is more strongly inherited even than height. This correlation is constant over centuries, suggesting an underlying social physics surprisingly immune to government intervention. Social mobility in England in 2012 is little greater than in pre-industrial times. Surname evidence in other countries suggests similarly slow underlying mobility rates

Inter-generational Mobility in England, 1858-2012✣

This paper uses a panel of 21,618 people with rare surnames whose wealth is observed at death in England and Wales 1858-2012 to measure the intergeneration elasticity of wealth over five generations. We show, using rare surnames to track families, that wealth is much more persistent over generations than standard one generation estimates would suggest. There is still a significant correlation between the wealth of families five generations apart. We show that this finding can be reconciled with standard estimates of wealth mobility by positing an underlying Markov process of wealth inheritance with an intergenerational elasticity of 0.70-0.75 throughout the years 1858-2012. The enormous social and economic changes of this long period had surprisingly little effect on the strength of inheritance of wealth

Surnames: a New Source for the History of Social Mobility✣

This paper explains how surname distributions can be used as a way to measure rates of social mobility in contemporary and historical societies. This allows for estimates of social mobility rates for any population for which we know just two facts: the distribution of surnames overall, and the distribution of surnames among some elite or underclass. Such information exists, for example, for England back to 1300, and for Sweden back to 1700. However surname distributions reveal a different, more fundamental type of mobility than that conventionally estimated. Thus surname estimates also allow for measuring a different aspect of social mobility, the underlying average social status of families, but the aspect that matters for mobility of social groups, and for families across multiple generations.

Malthus to Modernity: Wealth, Status and Fertility in England, 1500-1879✣

A key challenge to theories of long-run economic growth has been linking the onset of modern growth with the move to modern fertility limitation. A notable puzzle for these theories is that modern growth in England began around 1780, 100 years before there was seemingly any movement to limit fertility. Here we show that the aggregate data on fertility in England before 1880 conceals significant declines in the fertility of the middle and upper classes earlier. These declines coincide with the Industrial Revolution, and are of the character predicted by some recent theories of long-run growth.

Marital fertility and wealth during the fertility transition: rural France, 1750–1850

It has been long established that the demographic transition began in eighteenthcentury France, yet there is no consensus on exactly why fertility declined. This analysis links fertility life histories to wealth at death data for four rural villages in France, 1750–1850. For the first time, the wealth–fertility relationship during the onset of the French fertility decline can be analysed. Where fertility is declining, wealth is a powerful predictor of smaller family size. This article argues that fertility decline in France was a result of changing levels of economic inequality, associated with the 1789 Revolution. In cross-section, the data support this hypothesis: where fertility is declining, economic inequality is lower than where fertility is high.

Urbanization, Mortality, and Fertility in Malthusian England✣

The modern world is the product of two momentous changes: the Industrial Revolution of 1800, which brought sustained efficiency advances in economies, and the Demographic Transition of 1900, which channeled those efficiency advances mainly into increased income per capita, instead of increases in population. How these revolutions were connected has been a persistent unsolved puzzle in the history of growth. The Demographic Transition was achieved without any improvement in contraceptive technologies from those of 1800 and earlier. It was a possibility for all preindustrial societies. Why did it occur only after the Industrial Revolution?

20 Jan 2017, BBC ->Talking Business

2 Feb 2015, China Daily ->Children of today's super-rich will still be wealthy in 300 years' time

1 Feb 2015, Daily Mail ->Keeping it in the family: Children of today's super-rich ...

1 Feb 2015, Telegraph ->The wealthier your ancestors the more successful you will be, study concludes

31 Jan 2015, Guardian ->Inheritance: how Britain’s wealthy still keep it in the family

3 Dec 2014, Discovery News ->Elite Families Stay Elite for Centuries

25 Nov 2014, ZmeScience.com ->How the rich stay rich: social status is more inheritable than height

18 Nov 2014, Daily Mail ->How having the right surname STILL sets you up for life

17 Nov 2014, Phys.org ->Family ties that bind: Having the right surname sets you up for life

17 Nov 2014, Science20.com ->Domesday Book Listing Is Still A Ticket To Being Upper Class In England

30 Oct 2013, Telegraph ->Same names have attended Oxbridge since the Norman Conquest

29 Oct 2013, BBC ->Lady Mary needn't worry - Britain's elite will survive

29 Oct 2013, Daily Mail ->So much for social mobility

30 Oct 2013, Independent ->Are you of the Pemberley Darcys?

30 Oct 2013, Independent ->I’d offer my opinion about our feudal society, but I’m only a humble Dent

30 Oct 2013, Huffington Post ->'Elite' Surnames Such As Darcy, Mandeville, Have Studied At Oxbridge...

30 Oct 2013, CNBC ->What's in a name? Wealth and social mobility, study says

30 Oct 2013, Guardian ->You don't need a posh name for Oxford or Cambridge, but it does seem to help

9 Feb 2013, Economist ->Surnames offer depressing clues to the extent of social mobility over generations

13 Oct 2013, Economist ->Like father, not like son

18 Oct 2012, Washington Post ->How your last name will doom your descendants centuries from now

2 Sep 2013, Gawker.com ->A Rockefeller By Any Other Name Would Make Just as Much