[ExI] Impressive book: Farewell to Alms

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Tue Feb 5 20:44:14 UTC 2008

At 09:50 AM 2/5/2008, Damien wrote:
>At 09:22 PM 2/4/2008 -0700, Keith wrote:
> > >There just aren't enough wills compared with the population numbers.
> > >People who wrote wills are a small, self-selected subset of the
> > >population. It is a great leap to conclude that the small subset of
> > >wills is representative of the whole population. The vast majority of
> > >the population had lives that never got into the records anywhere.
> >
> >Do you agree with Clark's numbers for the will
> >data he had?  If you do, what reason do you have
> >to expect the results *not* to apply to the population as a whole?
>What? "Representative of the whole population" doesn't here mean
>"representative of the whole population of will-writers whose wills
>are preserved," it means "representative of the whole population."
>You're not suggesting, are you, that by sampling only owners of Rolls
>Royces and Aston Martins you'll learn much of interest about the
>whole population of car owners?

Sigh.  If you won't read the book, at least read the research paper.


"Wills were not made by a random sample of the population,
but were instead made by those who had property to bequeath.
But the custom of making wills seems to have extended well down
the social hierarchy in pre-industrial England. In Suffolk in the
1620s 39 percent of males who lived past age 16 made a will that
was probated.9 Higher income individuals were more likely to
leave a will, but there are plenty of wills available for those at the
bottom of the hierarchy such as laborers, sailors, shepherds, and

Page 87 in the book is the same as table 4 in the research paper.

Social Group  # of wills Frac literate Avg bequests (£) Max bequests (£)

Gentry  59      0.94            1,084           10,935
Professionals   87      0.84            268             1,739
Farmers         659     0.50            406             7,946
Unknown         345     0.44            154             1,360
Traders         84      0.47            112             1,390
Craftsmen       267     0.40            85              525
Husbandmen      333     0.24            87              1,898
Laborers        100     0.14            42              210

Since Clark is interested in the relative 
reproductive success by asset class, and not 
doing a profile of the whole population, this is a good sample for his purpose.

He certainly isn't only sampling the top of the social ladder.


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