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
google scholar blogs


with Greg Clark

New Paper

The Irish in England

with Cormac Ó Gráda

The successful assimilation of ethnic minorities into Western economies is one of the biggest challenges facing the Modern World. The substantial flows of Irish, to England, provide an historical example of this process. However, this has received surprisingly little scholarly attention. We use the universe of probate and vital registers of births, marriages and deaths, from England, 1838 to 2018, to document the status of the Irish in England. We identify the ?Irish? in the records as those individuals with distinctively Irish surnames. From at least the mid 19th century to 2018, the Irish in England have persisted as an underclass, 30-50% poorer than the English. Infant mortality is about 25% higher for the Irish 1838-1950 but has subsequently equalized. We discuss the potential roles of selective migration, social mobility, and discrimination in this, and signpost directions for future research.

New Paper

The Causal Effects of Education on Age at Marriage and Marital Fertility

The negative association of education and fertility, over time and between countries, is a central stylized fact of social science. Yet we have scant evidence on whether this is, or is not, causal. Using the universe of vital registration index data from England, 1912 to 2007, I first show that it is possible, using unique names, to construct a demographically and socioeconomically representative sample of 1.5 million women. Historical record linkage of women is typically not attempted but is possible here because of the unique characteristics of English civil registration. I then exploit the natural experiment of sharp discontinuities in who was affected by compulsory schooling law changes in 1947 and in 1972, which exogenously and effectively raised the minimum school leaving age. A Regression Discontinuity design, executed on the individual data, identifies the causal effect of education on age at marriage and fertility. Education may have raised age at marriage in 1972. However one extra year of education at 15 or 16 has a zero causal effect on marital fertility.

New Paper

The Mismeasure of Man: Why Intergenerational Occupational Mobility is Much Lower than Conventionally Measured, England, 1800-2021

with Matt Curtis

Using a new database of 1.7 m marriages in England 1837-1939, and a genealogy of 414,000 people in England 1700-2021, we estimate two independent new occupational status indices for England 1800-1939. These new indices show that there was much less social mobility 1800-1939 than previous indices, such as HISCAM, imply. The performance of these two new indices, however, illustrates a general problem with comparing social mobility across time and place using status indices. All such indices embody unknown and varying degrees of error. The more error, the more apparent mobility. So in the paper we develop a way of measuring intergenerational occupational status mobility which eliminates all measurement error. This suggests that occupational status persistence in England 1800-2021 was always much greater than conventionally measured, and was largely unchanged over time.

Occupational Scores (HISCO)
Occupational Titles and Scores: Components
New Paper

Assortative Mating and the Industrial Revolution: England, 1754-2021✣

Using a new database of 1.7 million marriage records for England 1837-2021 we estimate assortment by occupational status in marriage, and the intergenerational correlation of occupational status. We find the underlying correlations of status groom-bride, and father-son, are remarkably high: 0.8 and 0.9 respectively. These correlations are unchanged 1837-2021. There is evidence this strong matching extends back to at least 1754. Even before formal education and occupations for women, grooms and brides matched tightly on educational and occupational abilities. We show further that women contributed as much as men to important child outcomes. This implies strong marital sorting substantially increased the variance of social abilities in England. Pre-industrial marital systems typically involved much less marital sorting. Thus the development of assortative marriage may play a role in the location and timing of the Industrial Revolution, through its effect on the supply of those with upper-tail abilities.

Does Education Matter? Tests from Extensions of Compulsory Schooling in England and Wales 1919-22, 1947, and 1972✣

Schooling and social outcomes correlate strongly. But are these connections causal? Previous papers for England using compulsory schooling to identify causal effects have produced conflicting results. Some found significant effects of schooling on adult longevity and on earnings, others found no effects. Here we measure the consequence of extending compulsory schooling in England to ages 14, 15 and 16 in the years 1919-22, 1947 and 1972. From administrative data these increases in compulsory schooling added 0.43, 0.60 and 0.43 years of education to the affected cohorts. We estimate the effects of these increases in schooling for each cohort on measures of adult longevity, on dwelling values in 1999 (an index of lifetime incomes), and on the the social characteristics of the places where the affected cohorts died. Since we have access to all the vital registration records, and a nearly complete sample of the 1999 electoral register, we find with high precision that all the schooling extensions failed to increase adult longevity (as had been found previously for the 1947 and 1972 extensions), dwelling values, or the social status of the communities people die in. Compulsory schooling ages 14-16 had no effect, at the cohort level, on social outcomes in England.

The Micro-Evidence for the Malthusian System. France, 1670-1840

I test the assumptions of the Malthusian model at the individual, cross-sectional level for France, 1650-1820. Using husband's occupation from the parish records of 41 French rural villages, I assign three different measures of status. There is no evidence for the existence of the positive check; infant deaths are unrelated to status. However, the preventive check operates strongly, acting through female age at first marriage. The wives of rich men are younger brides than those of poorer men. This drives a positive net-fertility gradient in living standards. However, the strength of this gradient is substantially weaker than it is in pre-industrial England.

*Updated Jan 2021*

Hidden Wealth

Sharp declines in wealth-concentration occurred across Europe and the US during the 20th century. But this stylized fact is based on declared wealth. It is possible that today the richest are not less rich but rather that they are hiding much of their wealth. This paper proposes a method to measure this hidden wealth, in any form. In England, 1920-1992, elites are concealing 20-32% of their wealth. Among dynasties, hidden wealth, independent of declared wealth, predicts appearance in the Offshore Leaks Database of 2013-6, house values in 1999, and Oxbridge attendance, 1990-2016. Accounting for hidden wealth eliminates one-third of the observed decline of top 10% wealth-share over the past century.

Where is the Middle Class? Inequality, Gender and the Shape of the Upper Tail from 60 million English Death and Probate Records, 1892-2016

This paper analyses a newly constructed individual level dataset of every English death and probate from 1892-2016. The estimated top wealth shares match closely existing estimates. However, this analysis clearly shows that the 20th century's `Great Equalization' of wealth stalled in mid-century. The probate rate, which captures the proportion of English with any significant wealth at death rose from 10% in the 1890s to 40% by 1950 and has stagnated to 2016. Despite the large declines in the wealth share of the top 1%, from 73% to 20%, the median English person died with almost nothing throughout. All changes in inequality after 1950 involve a reshuffling of wealth within the top 30%. Further, I find that a log-linear distribution fits the empirical data better than a Pareto power law. Finally, I show that the top wealth shares are increasingly and systematically male as one ascends in wealth, 1892-1992, but this has equalized over the 20th century.

Twins Reveal Absence of Fertility Control in Pre-Industrial Western European Populations✣

with Matt Curtis

Using evidence from the accident of twin births we show that for four Western European pre-industrial population samples – England 1538-1826, England 1730-1879, France 1670-1789 and Quebec, 1621-1835 – there was no evidence of control of fertility within marriage. If a twin was born to a family in any of these populations, average family size increased by 1 compared to families with a singleton birth at the same parity and mother age, with no reduction of subsequent fertility. Twin births also show no differential effect on fertility when they occur at high, as opposed to low, parities. This is in contrast to populations where fertility is known to have been controlled by at least some families, such as England, 1900-49. There a twin birth increased average births per family by significantly less than 1.

The Big Sort: Selective Migration and the Decline of Northern England 1780-2018✣

The North of England is now poorer and less educated than the South. Using complete population data at the surname level 1837-2006, and a large sample of individuals born 1780- 1929, this paper shows two things. First an important element in the decline of the North was selective outmigration of those with education and talent. This migration is evident even for the generation born 1780-1809, and continued to those born 1900-1929. There was also selective migration to the South of those with education and talent coming from outside England -, Scottish, Pakistanis and others. However the migration of talent to the South created no significant external benefits to workers in the South, as would be predicted by the doctrines of the New Economic Geography. Surnames concentrated in the North do not show any national disadvantage in education, occupation or wealth. Also for workers of a given education or social background there is at most a very modest locational disadvantage associated with being born in the North. Thus there will be no efficiency gain from facilitating further migration south from the North, or from further efforts to bolster the economy of the North through government aid.

The Child Quality-Quantity Tradeoff, England, 1780-1879: A Fundamental Component of the Economic Theory of Growth is Missing

In recent theorizing, modern economic growth was created by substituting child quality for quantity. However evidence for any substantial tradeoff of child quality for quantity is minimal. In England the Industrial Revolution occurred in a period of substantial human capital investment, but no fertility control, huge random variation in family sizes, and uncorrelated family size and parent quality. Yet family size variation had minor effects on educational attainment, occupational status, and child health, for both prosperous and poor families. More children did substantially reduce wealth at death, but only for rich families with inherited wealth. In families with no parental wealth, wealth at death was unaffected by family size. Even for richer families the wealth effect substantially diminishes by the grandchild generation. There is no significant quality-quantity tradeoff in human capital even well into the modern growth era. Growth theory must proceed in other directions.

Lifespans of the Elite, 800-1800


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.

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.

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.

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?

6 Jan 2021, Times Radio ->Interview on Population

4 Dec 2018, The Times ->Brain drain created north-south divide

24 Aug 2018, Vox Eu ->Podcast Interview with Tim Phillips

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, ->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, ->Family ties that bind: Having the right surname sets you up for life

17 Nov 2014, ->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, ->A Rockefeller By Any Other Name Would Make Just as Much