Economists : Historically what percent of population has owned 99% of wealth?

I have seen figures floating around like 1% of population owning 99% of wealth. This question is not about whether it is 1% or some other number, but rather how this has varied over history.

My guess is that 99% of wealth was probably owned by 0.001% pre - industrial revolution, and the 0.001% has grown exponentially since then. Is this true ?

How does the plot of 99% wealth owning population, over history, look like ?

I find that 1% figure extremely doubtful for ancient times, unless it was an extremely broad definition like “the king owns his subjects, and his subjects own the livestock, ergo the king owns the livestock.” Back in ancient times, wealth was often measured in flock size, vineyards, etc. rather than monetary coinage, so it would have been highly unlikely a king or noble class could own 99% of wealth; that had to have been under the administration of the farmers/serfs themselves.

A better statistical measure for overall inequality of wealth or income is the Gini Coefficient, that’s going to be more productive in searching for historical estimates.

I found this brief discussion of a book describing estimates for ancient civilizations:

I guess there must be much more reliable estimates for the last few centuries, but I can’t yet find anything going back before the 1900s.

I’m no expert, but I don’t think this is true. It appears that the most equitable societies were probably our hunter gatherer ancestors, and that broadly speaking increasing wealth inequality has been associated with advancing technology.

Thanks for the response and the links. Would you say the “inequality curve” as defined in the OP is linear or exponential or some other form ?

Well, over the last 100 years it’s U-shaped. See figure 6 here: