Cosimo I de'Medici (1519-1574), the first Great Duke of Tuscany, leading from 1537 to 1574, during the last years of the Renaissance.
Photo 12—UIG via Getty Images
By Denver Nicks
May 31, 2016

It’s no surprise that having wealthy parents means a person is more likely to be wealthy themselves, but according new research the effect holds true for far longer than is commonly believed. Try half a millennium.

A study of intergenerational mobility conducted by Italian economists Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti and published by the U.K.-based Centre for Economic Policy Research looked at the family names of the wealthiest people in Florence going back to the year 1427. (For context, that was just 10 years after the Battle of Agincourt, a few years before Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and around the time the Medici family rose to power.)

Comparing tax records in 1427 to records from 2011, researchers discovered that “the top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago.” All the more remarkable, the authors point out, when you consider the political, economic, and social upheavals that have rocked the country during that long period of time.

It is well established that economic advantages—and disadvantages—are passed from one generation to the next, but this study points to much longer lasting effects of income inequality on economic mobility. Nor is it the first report to use old records to measure economic mobility—a U.K. study recently found that family status in England remained largely unchanged from 1170 to 2012, more than 800 years later, reports Quartz.

On the upside, the study authors note that, while the evidence points to substantial economic immobility on the whole, mobility in 2011 was much improved from 1427, when Florence was a “quasi-immobile society.”

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