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Aggregate wealth and its distribution as determinants of financial crises


This paper investigates the relationship between wealth inequality and financial crises. While substantiation of a role for income inequality remains ambiguous in the literature, evidence is presented suggesting a positive relationship between the interaction of wealth inequality with aggregate wealth on systemic financial crises. The evidence is based on panel data for nine countries, some of which expand into the last century, and a linear probability model estimated with country and year fixed effects. The relationship is consistent when accounting for overall financial sector size, credit growth, the money supply, current account, asset bubbles, and robust to estimation method. No significant role is found for income inequality. Predicted probabilities of financial crisis closely track the incidence of financial crises over the last century, remarkably so when compared against a leading benchmark model. It is argued that the empirical relationship between wealth inequality, aggregate wealth and financial crises reveals an important role for the distribution of accumulated assets in the macro-financial stability of rich countries. The distribution of stocks may capture structural vulnerabilities that the distribution of flows cannot expose, and hence more unequal countries in wealth face greater financial instability. An economic network hypothesis is proposed for interpreting the empirical results.

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Correspondence to Thomas Hauner.

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Hauner, T. Aggregate wealth and its distribution as determinants of financial crises. J Econ Inequal 18, 319–338 (2020).

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  • Financial crisis
  • Wealth inequality
  • Wealth-income ratio

JEL Classification

  • D31
  • E22
  • G01
  • G17
  • N10