Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Economics / Economic Policy


Peter J. George




This study presents an examination of wealth holding in late nineteenth century Wentworth County using a set of historical micro-data constructed from the probate records of the Wentworth County Surrogate Court, the Census of Canada and municipal tax assessment rolls. The final sample consists of 283 probated decedents - 50 from 1872, 79 from 1882 and 154 from 1892. The information contained in the data set was augmented by historical information drawn from the inspection of local newspapers and period documents. The data set was used to derive information on the size, composition and distribution of wealth for the sample population, a subsection of late nineteenth century Canadian society. Econometric techniques were used to examine whether these probated decedents were characterized by life-cycle or bequest saving behaviour. The study then is both an examination of past wealth holding and an attempt to analyze the motives for saving and wealth holding. Ordinary Least Squares and Tobit were employed in a regression analysis of the determinants of total wealth. Separate equations were estimated for real estate and financial assets. It was found that a decedent's real wealth was positively and significantly related to age, occupational status, and the number of surviving children. Real estate holdings were positively and significantly related to the number of children, but there was no significant relationship between financial asset holding and the number of children. The presence of a hump-shaped wealth-age profile as well as a relationship between wealth holding and children suggest that both life-cycle and bequest motives for saving were present in late nineteenth century Wentworth County. At the same time, the low rate of decumulation after peak wealth, and the breakdown of the wealth-age profile for the separate real estate and financial asset equations both suggest that the bequest motive was more important. It is difficult then, to reconcile the evidence on life-cycle and bequest-saving in Wentworth County with the Life-Cycle Transition hypothesis advanced by Ransom and Sutch. Clearly, the presence of both life-cycle and bequest saving attributes, both in this thesis and in other studies of late twentieth-century saving, provides conflicting evidence that a unique transition was taking place in the late nineteenth century.

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