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Inheritance regimes: Medieval family structures and current institutional quality

Journal article
Authors Rasmus Broms
Andrej Kokkonen
Published in Governance
ISSN 09521895
Publication year 2019
Published at Quality of Government Institute (QoG)
Department of Political Science
Language en
Subject categories Political Science


© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. This study highlights the impact that medieval patterns of intrafamily inheritance practices wield on contemporary institutional quality. We argue that regions that practiced inegalitarian inheritance developed stronger institutions than regions that practiced egalitarian inheritance, for two reasons. First, we argue that transmitting land to a single heir resulted in a sense of personal ownership and, by extension, encouraged individual property rights. Second, we argue that the fact that disinherited children were incentivized to seek training and employment outside the family domicile in regions practicing inegalitarian inheritance resulted in trust-building social interactions. We test our argument using data on medieval inheritance patterns and modern-day institutional quality in European subnational regions and across countries globally. Our results show that historical inegalitarian inheritance practices are strongly positively associated with contemporary institutional quality. We conclude that historical norms at the family level are still affecting important modern-day societal functions.

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