This has been one of the most widely read recent columns on VoxEU – over 65,000 hits in barely two weeks (excerpt):
What’s your (sur)name? Intergenerational mobility over six centuries
Guglielmo Barone, Sauro Mocetti
Societies characterised by a high transmission of socioeconomic status across generations are not only more likely to be perceived as ‘unfair’, they may also be less efficient as they waste the skills of those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Existing evidence suggests that the related earnings advantages disappear after several generations. This column challenges this view by comparing tax records for family dynasties (identified by surname) in Florence, Italy in 1427 and 2011. The top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago. This persistence is identified despite the huge political, demographic, and economic upheavals that occurred between the two dates.
I'm not as confident as the authors that one can generalise these results to other countries and cities, but they do emphasise the point that the social/wealth structure of societies left to themselves tend to ossify. Literature on more recent times (discussed in the article) suggest intergenerational advantages tend to dissipate after a number of generations, but this is in an environment of government intervention and redistribution (such as mass education). Nevertheless, the fact that income generation and wealth remains concentrated in the same families after close to 700 years is staggering.
Link to original paper:
Barone, G and Mocetti, S (2016) “Intergenerational mobility in the very long run: Florence 1427-2011”, Bank of Italy working papers, 1060