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Inheritance Laws Across Colonies: Causes and Consequences

Lee J. Alston and Morton Owen Schapiro
The Journal of Economic History
Vol. 44, No. 2, The Tasks of Economic History (Jun., 1984), pp. 277-287
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2120705
Page Count: 11
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Inheritance Laws Across Colonies: Causes and Consequences
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Abstract

We examine in this paper both the causes and consequences of inheritance laws in the colonies. We argue that the continuation of intestate inheritance laws over the colonial period was due in part to their compatibility with economic efficiency. In the North, multigeniture helped motivate family labor, whereas the passive acceptance of the British inheritance system of primogeniture in the South rested on its promotion of large plantations that could capture economies of scale. In terms of effects, a strong bequest motive in the colonies adopting multigeniture reduced the variability in demographic experiences across colonies with different inheritance systems.

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