Skip to main content Accessibility help

A Nation of Inheritors? Housing Inheritance, Wealth and Inequality in Britain*

  • Chris Hamnett


This paper examines the growth of housing inheritance in Britain since the late 1960s using Inland Revenue statistics. It also uses survey evidence to examine the uneven distribution of inheritance by housing tenure, class and region, and assesses its implications for consumption cleavage theory. It argues that at present the social distribution of housing inheritance is far from equal, benefiting home owners and the professional and managerial classes, but that, over the next 40 years, it will become much more widespread as the post-war generation of home owners bequeathes property. It is likely, however, that the children of tenants will be generally excluded from housing inheritance which is largely confined to the children of home owners.



Hide All
Atkinson, A.B. (1971), ‘The distribution of wealth and the individual life-cycle’, Oxford Economic Papers, 23: 2, 239254.
Atkinson, A.B. (1972), Unequal Shares: The Distribution of Wealth in Britain, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Atkinson, A.B. (1978), Distribution of Personal Wealth in Britain, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Atkinson, A.B. (1983). The Economics of Inequality, Clarendon, Oxford.
Badcock, B. (1989), ‘Homeownership and the accumulation of real wealth’, Society and Space, 7, 6991.
Bentham, G. (1986), ‘Socio-tenurial polarization in the United Kingdom, 1953–83: the income evidence’, Urban Studies, 21, 5762.
Burrows, R. and Butler, T. (1989), ‘Middle mass and the pit: a critical review of Peter Saunders's Sociology of Consumption’, The Sociological Review, 37: 2, 338364.
Department of the Environment (1977), Housing Policy Review, HMSO.
Duncan, S. (1989), ‘Do house prices rise that much? A dissenting view’, Housing Studies, 5: 3, 195208.
Dunleavy, P. (1979), ‘The urban basis of political alignment: social class, domestic property ownership, and state intervention in consumption processes’, British Journal of Political Science, 9, 409–43.
Forrest, R. and Murie, A. (1987), ‘Marginalisation and subsidised individualism’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 10, 4666.
Forrest, R. and Murie, A. (1989), ‘Differential accumulation: wealth, inheritance and housing policy reconsidered’. Policy and Politics, 17: 1, 2539.
Forrest, R., Murie, A. and Williams, P. (1990), Home Ownership, Unwin Hyman.
Good, F.J. (1990), ‘Estimates of the distribution of personal wealth: 1, Marketable wealth of individuals 1976 to 1988’, Economic Trends, 444, 10 137157.
Hamnett, C. (1984), ‘Housing the two nations: socio–tenurial polarisation in England and Wales, 1961–81’, Urban Studies, 21: 3, 389405.
Hamnett, C. (1986), ‘The changing socio-economic structure of London and the South East, 1966–1981’, Regional Studies, 20: 5, 291406.
Hamnett, C. (1988), ‘Regional variations in house prices and house price inflation in Britain, 1969–88’, Royal Bank of Scotland Review, 159, 2940.
Hamnett, C. (1989a), ‘The owner occupied housing market in Britain: a north-south divide?’, in Lewis, J. and Townsend, A. (eds), The North-South Divide, Paul Chapman Publishing, London.
Hamnett, C. (1989b), ‘Consumption and class in contemporary Britain’, in Hamnett, C., McDowell, L. and Sarre, P. (eds), The Changing Social Structure, Sage, London.
Hamnett, C. (1991), ‘Home ownership, housing wealth and wealth distribution in Britain’, paper given to the Housing Policy as a Strategy for Change Conference, Oslo, June 24–27 1991.
Hamnett, C. and Harmer, M. (1990), ‘Inheritance in London: the evidence provided by wills’ (unpublished).
Hamnett, C., Harmer, M. and Williams, P. (1989), Housing Inheritance: a National Survey of its Scale and Impact, Housing Research Foundation.
Hamnett, C., Harmer, M. and Williams, P. (1991), Safe as Houses: Housing Inheritance in Britain, Paul Chapman Publishing, London.
Harbury, C.D. (1962), ‘Inheritance and the distribution of personal wealth in Britain’, Economic Journal, 72, 854–68.
Harbury, C.D. and Hitchens, D. (1979), Inheritance and Wealth Inequality in Britain, George Allen and Unwin, London.
Harbury, C.D. and McMahon, P.C. (1973), ‘Inheritance and characteristics of top wealth leavers in Britain’, Economic Journal, 83, 811833.
Harloe, M. (1984), ‘Sector and class: a critical comment’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 8: 2, 228–37.
Harmer, M. and Hamnett, C. (1990), ‘Regional variations in housing inheritance in Britain’, Area, 22: 1, 115.
Hogg, S. (1987), ‘A nation of inheritors’, The Independent, 30 11.
Holmans, A. (1990), House Prices: Changes Through Time at National and Sub–National Level, Government Economic Service Working Paper No. 110, DoE.
Horseman, E. (1978), ‘Inheritance in England and Wales: the evidence provided by wills’, Oxford Economic Papers, NS, 30, 409–22.
Inland Revenue Statistics, Annual, various dates, HMSO.
Jenkins, S.P. and Maynard, A. (1983), ‘Intergenerational continuities in housing’, Urban Studies, 20, 431–8.
Leather, P. (1990), ‘The potential and implications of home equity release in old age’, Housing Studies, 5: 1, 313.
Merrett, S. (1980), Owner Occupation in Britain, Routledge, London.
Grenfell, Morgan (1987), ‘Housing inheritance and wealth’, Morgan Grenfell Economic Review, 45, 122.
Munro, M. (1988), ‘Housing wealth and inheritance’, Journal of Social Policy, 17: 4, 417–36.
Murie, A. (1986), ‘Social differentiation in urban areas: housing or occupational class at work?Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 77, 345–57.
Murie, A. and Forrest, R. (1980), ‘Wealth, inheritance and housing policy’, Policy and Politics, 8: 1, 119.
Pahl, R. (1975), Whose City?, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth (1977), Third Report on the Standing Reference, (Report No. 5), Cmnd 6999, HMSO, London.
Rubenstein, W.D. (1986), Wealth and Inequality in Britain, Faber and Faber, London.
Saunders, P. (1984), ‘Beyond housing classes: the sociological significance of private property rights in the means of consumption’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 8: 2, 202–27.
Saunders, P. (1986), ‘Comment on Dunleavy and Preteceille’, Society and Space, 4, 155–63.
Saunders, P. (1990), A Nation of Home Owners, Unwin Hyman, London.
Spencer, P. (1987), UK House Prices: Not An Inflation Signal, Economics series, Credit Suisse First Boston, London.
Swenarton, M. and Taylor, S. (1984), ‘The scale and growth of owner-occupation in Britain between the Wars’, Economic History Review, 38, 373–92.
Thorns, D. (1981a), ‘The implications of differential rates of capital gain from owner occupation for the formation and development of housing classes’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 5, 205–19.
Thorns, D. (1981b), ‘Owner – occupation: its significance for wealth transfer and class formation’, Sociological Review, 29: 4, 705–27.
Thorns, D. (1989), ‘The impact of home ownership and capital gains on class and consumption sectors’, Society and Space, 7, 293312.
Warde, A. (1990), ‘Production, consumption and social change: on Saunders's sociology of consumption’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 14: 2, 228–48.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed