Inheritance Laws Across Colonies: Causes and Consequences

Lee J. Alston, Morton Owen Schapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-287
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Economic History
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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