The Politics of Persisting Inequality: Evidence from the US South

Project Description

Aims and Central Research Question

We study slavery in the U.S. South to learn about the dynamics of inequality, entrenched elites, and intergenerational mobility. Why and how did white elites stay in power after the abolition of slavery? Were they able to pass on political power to later generations, and did this lead to more conservative lawmaking in the U.S. South? What are the long-term effects on today’s legislation and voting behavior?


Intergenerational mobility is central to analyzing inequality. Low mobility across generations may be a result of policies and social preferences, but it is also an independent causal force of its own. It shapes broader economic and political outcomes through political elites whose resource allocation preferences are not in line with the median voter. We aim to use the case of the U.S. South to better understand the interplay between low intergenerational mobility and the political dimension of inequality.


We plan to compare white elites in U.S. states with and without slavery, measuring individuals’ wealth (land ownership and total wealth) and political power (influence in state legislature). Data is found in U.S. censuses from five call dates in five decades, and in historic roll-calls. We will turn these documents into usable data with an algorithm that extracts relevant information from the historical records using methods from computational linguistics.
Using this dataset, we will compare legislators at the individual level, before and after the abolition of slavery, both within and across states. This comparison will be complemented by data on the voting behavior of legislators, both from the 19th century and from modern times.


Economics, Political Science

Starting Date

1 October 2019

Project Partners

Anselm Hager (Humboldt University Berlin)

Anselm Hager is Junior Professor for International Politics at the Department of Social Sciences at the Humboldt University Berlin. He received his doctorate from Columbia University in 2017. From 2017 to 2019 he was Junior Professor for political economy at the University of Konstanz.
Find more information about Anselm Hager here.


Project Publications

LSE USAPP, 23.10.2020: "Enslavers dominated Southern politics long after the Civil War ended“, by Jun.-Prof Dr. Luna Bellani and Jun.-Prof. Dr. Stephan Maurer.

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LSE, 01.03.2021: "in brief... The long shadow of slavery", by Dr. Luna Bellani, Anselm Hager and Jun.-Prof. Dr. Stephan Maurer.

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IZA Institut of Labor Economics, 01.08.2020: "The Long Shadow of Slavery: The Persistence of Slave Owners in Southern Law-Making", by Dr. Luna Bellani, Anselm Hager and Jun.-Prof. Dr. Stephan Maurer.

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