The impact of the 1630 plague on economic inequality in northern Italy

by Guido Alfani and Mattia Fochesato in collaboration with University of Pavia

We investigate the determinants of wealth inequality in northern Italy and particularly in the territories controlled by the Republic of Venice during 1400-1800, with a focus on the impact of the terrible 1630 plague which killed 40% of the inhabitants of this area. We have collected a large and unique dataset including local-level estimates of wealth inequality at 50-year intervals, matched with local-level demographic information, data on socio-economic characteristics of the Republic throughout the period, and data on several geo-morphological characteristics of the communities analyzed.

Through a panel data analysis, we check the determinants of wealth inequality and the role played by the 1630 plague in shaping them.

We find that, in the long run, both economic factors (e.g. regressive taxation) and some geo-morphological characteristics of the communities analyzed (e.g. the altitude and the ruggedness of their territory) had a particularly strong and positive impact on wealth inequality.

These long-run determinants were affected by the 1630 plague, which had only a limited egalitarian impact (if any) but it was able to determine a structural break in the way in which some key variables affected inequality.

Future research will extend the analysis to other Italian and possibly European areas.

Alfani, G., Di Tullio, M. and M. Fochesato, 2020, “The determinants of wealth inequality in the Republic of Venice (1400-1800)”, CAGE Working Paper no. 483, June 2020