Letting the Gini Out of the Bottle: Hazards of Measuring Inequality Archaeologically

Author(s): Christian Peterson; Robert Drennan

Year: 2016


Since the 1980s, archaeologists have measured economic inequality by borrowing the Gini index from economics, and applying it to the archaeological record in various ways. Burial assemblages were the earliest targets, and more recent efforts have expanded to house sizes, areas of agricultural fields, and household possessions. Each of these sources provides potentially enlightening information about the distribution of wealth within an ancient community. Each source has its advantages and disadvantages, and none represents the totality of household wealth in anything like the way family net worth or annual income can be measured with modern or historical data. The Gini index's reliance on a distribution of proportions can lead to especially misleading results when very different cultural contexts are compared. In some cases, wealth inequality may not even be the most persuasive interpretation of the patterns observed. The most productive archaeological strategy would aim to refine the ways in which available sources can be used, and then to use as many as possible, playing them off against each other for maximum insight. This paper discusses some of the issues to be more thoroughly thought through and experimented with to make Gini indices calculated from archaeological data more convincing.

Cite this Record

Letting the Gini Out of the Bottle: Hazards of Measuring Inequality Archaeologically. Christian Peterson, Robert Drennan. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403400)


Spatial Coverage

min long: 66.885; min lat: -8.928 ; max long: 147.568; max lat: 54.059 ;