This research from economics professor Kris Inwood is funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant.
SSHRC Spotlight: Investigating the origins of inequality
What does this research focus on?
This research focuses on inequality and social mobility, two of the most pressing policy issues of our day. It takes both an economic and historical approach so we can examine the origins of inequality and how it has varied over time. It’s important to understand how it started since those factors, which are from 150 years ago, still affect us today.
What problem or challenge are you addressing with this research?
The big underlying challenge is to understand why inequality is greater in some circumstances. For example, Australia and Canada settled at the same time, but inequality is greater in Canada. Why is this? The research also includes New Zealand and South Africa.
What is your research approach?
This research requires us to extract data from sources that were not intended for this purpose, such as health, military and property records. We then use a cliometric approach, which introduces measurement into historical research. We are able to acquire large quantities of data, from which we identify patterns that help explain what has contributed to inequality and social mobility.
What impact do you hope this research will have?
Together with collaborators I hope to nuance the common misperception that everyone was wealthy and more or less equal in settler societies, and that everyone had comparable prospects for getting ahead during their lifetime. The issue is intergenerational, complex and while rooted in history still affects people today. For example, the wealth prospects of an individual may be connected to what happened to his/her grandfather. There is also the issue of healthcare and longevity. Who lives longer and why? Do the differences arise from genetic inheritance only, or are they affected by their socio-economic experience earlier in life or even by the experiences of parents and grandparents?
Within the next few years, we hope to add more societies into our comparative framework, such as Latin America. This expanded research would help us to compare different colonizations. For example, does it matter if a country was colonized by the English versus Spanish/Portuguese? Did their different laws impact how countries developed economically over time?