Two Italian economists documented the fact that the wealthiest families in Florence today are descended from the wealthiest families of Florence nearly 600 years ago.
Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti of the Bank of Italy — compared data on Florentine taxpayers in 1427 against tax data in 2011. Because Italian surnames are highly regional and distinctive, they could compare the income of families with a certain surname today, to those with the same surname in 1427. They found that the occupations, income and wealth of those distant ancestors with the same surname can help predict the occupation, income and wealth of their descendants today.
“The top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago.”
They find strong evidence that socioeconomic status is incredibly persistent. The wealthiest surnames in Florence today belong to families that, in 1429, were members of the shoemakers’ guild — at the 97th percentile of income. Descendants of members of the silk guild and descendants of attorneys — both at the 93rd percentile in 1427 — are among the wealthiest families today. Some of the wealthiest families in Florence today had ancestors who were prosperous shoemakers in the 1400s.
It’s no surprise that wealth and status can be inherited and persist for centuries. Other research has found that descendants of Japan’s samurai – 140 years after the end of the order — remain elites in Japan. A similar conclusion with regard to Sweden going back to the 17th century. The implication is that there's much less economic mobility over the long run than short-term figures would lead you to believe