December 19, 2022
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Household Wealth and its distribution in the Netherlands, 1854-2019


We analyze the evolution of aggregate household wealth, its composition, and top wealth shares since the mid-19th century for the Netherlands, a country which played a significant role in economic history. The main forces at play are the size and variation of colonial wealth up until WWII, and the introduction of a –particularly strong– pension system thereafter. We show that the wealth-income ratio followed the familiar U-shaped pattern over the 20th century. The Netherlands, however, had the largest wealth-income ratio on record, growing since the mid-1850s, driven by industrialization and booming private foreign investments, to a peak of 900% around 1880. In contrast to other countries, the wealth-income ratio remained high up until 1929. To better understand these trends, we construct the first series on colonial wealth and show that colonial and other foreign investment account for most of the gap with other countries in the pre-WWII period. The initial post-war decline in the ratio is driven by rapid income growth. The increase in the ratio since the 1970s has been mainly driven by the uniquely large capital-funded pension system. In contrast with other major countries, housing plays only a secondary role in net wealth accumulation due to significant mortgage debt. Methodologically, we are the first to compare historical national accounts, estate multiplier, and wealth tax data approaches to construct aggregate wealth. We find that the estate multiplier is a good alternative to the historical national accounts benchmark, while the use of wealth tax data results in unrealistically low estimates.



  • Simon J. Toussaint, Utrecht School of Economics,
  • Amaury de Vicq, Paris School of Economics;  Groningen University
  • Michail Moatsos, School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University
  • Tim van der Valk, Dutch Ministry of Finance




We are grateful for the support of Bas van Bavel and Coen Teulings. We offer special thanks to Nico Wilterdink and Rob Potharst. This paper benefited considerably from useful comments by Charlotte Bartels, Luis Bauluz, Bas van Bavel, Pierre Brassac, Abe de Jong, Herman de Jong, Wouter Leenders, Clara Martínez-Toledano, Salvatore Morelli, Rob Potharst, Ingber
Roymans, Wiemer Salverda, Coen Teulings, Nico Wilterdink, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Pim de Zwart, and seminar participants at the Bonn Macrohistory & Macrofinance Lab, Erasmus School of Economics, the European Historical Economics Conference, the IARIW General Conference, the World Inequality Conference, the Utrecht School of Economics and the Utrecht Economic & Social History Group. This work does not necessarily reflect the views of the Dutch Ministry of Finance.