Corrado Gini

Born: 23 May 1884 in Motta di Livenza, near Treviso, Italy
Died: 13 March 1965 in Rome, Italy

Corrado Gini's parents were Luciano Gini and Lavinia Locatelli, who were wealthy land-owning farmers. Vittorio Castellano writes about the affects of his background in [9]:-
All his life this country ancestry gave him something solid and withdrawn; he could be sociable when he wanted, and a brilliant talker, but it cost him an effort which he made only on rare occasions, when the inner promptings which always pushed him on towards some precise aim either relaxed their grip on him or else demanded the effort in the ultimate interest .of his ends and purposes.
Gini studied in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bologna. In this faculty he was able to take a wide range of subjects, one of which was statistics. It is interesting to note that the Faculty of Law was the only faculty where he could have studied statistics. Of course he took many courses in law which gave him an excellent training in presenting logical and well organised arguments. He also took courses on economics, mathematics and biology. He graduated with a law degree in 1905 with a thesis Il sesso dal punto di vista statistico [9]:-
In this work he discusses the sex ratio at birth; beginning with an exposition of past theories, he proceeds through existing statistical information, new hypotheses suggested by this material, and verifiable consequences to be drawn from these hypotheses to a final check of theory against the statistical data.
As is remarked in [11], by 1905:-
... his interest in public issues with a mathematical slant, rather than in law in the usual sense, was already evident, and it marked the rest of his career.
The economist Pasquale Iannaccone had spotted Gini's talents early on, for he wrote to his friend Luigi Einaudi in September 1907 saying that he had noticed [1]:-
... a young man - Gini - who is now beginning to work in and with Statistics, but with his culture and seriousness he seems destined to excel soon.
Gini published Contributo alle applicazioni statistiche del calcolo delle probabilità in 1907. His 1905 thesis Il sesso dal punto di vista statistica: le leggi della produzione dei sessi appeared in print in 1908. In the same year he also published Sul concetto di probabilità and he was awarded his 'libero docente', which is similar to the habilitation and gives the right to lecture in universities. In 1909 he was appointed as a lecturer assisting the Chair of Statistics in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia. He was appointed a full professor of statistics at Cagliari in 1910 and he founded there a statistical laboratory.

Some of Gini's early work was associated with the problem of how to measure inequalities in income and wealth in different countries. It is likely that he first became interested in this topic while he was studying at the University of Bologna when he may have read papers published in 1895 and 1897 by Vilfredo Pareto on the topic. Gini did not like the index devised by Pareto which he felt did not give realistic results. Gini introduced what he felt was a more satisfactory index in his 1909 paper Il diverso accrescimento delle classi sociali e la concentrazione della ricchezza . He claimed in a 1911 paper that this index had advantages over Pareto's index but he was not satisfied and sought a better approach. He produced this in Sulla misura della concentrazione e della variabilità dei caratteri (1914) which contains what are now called the Gini coefficient and Gini index. He also published the book L'ammontare e la composizione della ricchezza delle nazioni (1914).

In 1913 he was appointed to the chair of statistics at the University of Padua. At Padua he taught political economy, constitutional law, demography and economic statistics. The study of demography, the science of population of a society, was one that interested Gini over a long period and his work on this topic had begun before he moved to Padua, for he had published I fattori demografici dell'evoluzione delle Nazioni in 1912. He argued that population growth depended on [9]:-

... the growth of income and of the spirit of enterprise characteristic of a population with a high proportion of young people. His work opened up new horizons for the scientific study of human societies.
At Padua, Gini established a Statistical Institute in 1920. In the same year he founded the international journal of statistics Metron:-
Gini saw 'Metron' as the key to entering the world of newborn econometrics, and in the thirties he perhaps thought of 'Metron' as a viable alternative to 'Econometrica' in terms of international scientific periodicals.
The journal quickly gained an international reputation: R A Fisher published On the probable error of a coefficient of correlation deduced from a small sample in Metron in 1921.

Gini married Valentina Poggioli in 1921; they had two daughters. It was around this time that Fascism gripped Italy. By 1922 Mussolini was in power in Italy and Fascist policies were being imposed. Both Gini and Mussolini were interested in demography although Gini's approach, which looked at the evolution and equilibrium of population as similar to a biological organism, did not fit with Mussolini's ideas at controlling population. However, in the years following the First World War, Gini was much involved in the problems of reconstruction in Italy. His expertise in statistical approaches to economic problems led to him serving on many committees dealing with problems such as the supply of raw materials, inflation, war debts, labour issues and incomes. He was a leading figure in founding the journal La Vita Economica Italiana in 1926 which published work on current economic policy. The journal ceased publication in 1943.

In 1923 Gini left Padua, when he was appointed to the University of Rome. Mussolini set up the Central Statistical Institute in July 1926 and personally appointed Gini to be its president and to oversee its organisation. Gini was by this time advising Mussolini on demographic issues. In 1929 the position of the Central Statistical Institute was strengthened by law when it was [15]:-

... assigned the official task to designate national representative in international scientific meetings on statistical subjects: Gini's scientific and academic authority was thus enhanced by the law. ...[The Institute] expanded in 1930 and 1931 in order to fulfil the task of agriculture and population census; the Institute also took part in the Rome Population Congress organized by Gini himself. But the economic and financial crisis persuaded the Ministry of Finance in the same year to reduce by a third the budget of the Institute, a step that Gini opposed in vain.
In December 1931 Gini resigned as president of the Central Statistical Institute, feeling that controversy over its organisation would interfered with his work. His interest in demographic issues continued, however. He had founded the Comitato italiano per lo studio dei problemi della popolazione (Italian Committee for the Study of Population Problems) in 1929 and, in 1931 it organised a congress in Rome to study population issues. In 1934 Gini founded the journal Genus which became the official journal of the Italian Committee for the Study of Population Problems.

Gini also made significant innovations in statistics at the University of Rome. A Faculty of Political Science was set in the university in 1925 and Gini proposed the setting up of an Institute of Statistics and Economic Policy. He continued with further initiatives, and in 1927 set up a School of Statistics which combined the Institute of Statistics and the School of Statistical and Actuarial Science which had been set up at Rome by Guido Castelnuovo and Francesco Paolo Cantelli in the previous year.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, Gini received numerous Italian and international honours. He was elected vice president of the International Sociological Institute in 1933 and president of the Italian Genetics and Eugenics Society in the following year. He had already represented this society at the Third International Congress of Eugenics held in the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, 22-23 August 1932.

Other honours he had received before the outbreak of World War II include honorary degrees from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan (1932), the University of Geneva (1934), and Harvard University (1936).

Italy did not enter World War II following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. However, in June 1940, just before the fall of France, Italy entered the war on the German side. However, the Allies invaded Italy in July 1943 and later that month Mussolini resigned and the Fascist party in Italy was dissolved. The Allies slowly fought their way north and in September Italy surrendered to the Allies and declared war on Germany in the following month. Gini's position was not an easy one - he had been close to Mussolini and the Fascist government but he had also shown his opposition to some of their policies, particularly their racist policies, resigning some of his official positions because of government interference. During the summer of 1944 various people were investigated for their role in the wartime regime and, inevitably, Gini was one of those to be impeached [27]:-

... on 6th November 1944, while awaiting the results of this process,, he had to leave teaching and also his position as Dean of the Faculty of Statistical Sciences ... he also had to leave the Presidency of the Italian Statistical Society that he had occupied since 1941. ... although acquitted of the most serious charges on 24th January 1945, Gini was suspended from all academic duties and his salary was not paid for one year. Gini and the High Commissioner in charge of the prosecution appealed, of course for opposite reasons, against this ruling, but the latter submitted his reasons after the deadline and the subsequent act of 17th December 1945 was "not to prosecute". Gini survived virtually unscathed from that period and in 1946 he resumed his duties at the Faculty and in 1949 was again the President of the Italian Statistical Society, a position he held until his death. Certainly, his departure from politics was almost complete and the last twenty years of his life were mainly devoted to his studies.
Carlo Benedetti describes Gini's unusual way of working in [25]:-
My first meeting [with Gini on 6 January 1952] was in the Faculty of Statistical, Demographic and Actuarial Science, founded by Gini himself in 1936, which was situated on the top floor of an old building ... the Institute of Statistics directed by Gini, together with his other creation, that is the Italian Committee for Population Studies, practically too up the whole of the premises. At that time he was also Dean of the Faculty and remained so until 1954. The professors of other subjects only came to give lectures as they did not have anywhere to put their bags down. ... Gini's assistants and some other professors used to work in small glass boxes, fitted with a microphone which Gini could use to listen and talk, but the occupier of the box could only reply if spoken to. ... As for the university students, Gini was practically unapproachable.
Certainly Gini was a hard taskmaster as is illustrated by several episodes recounted by Benedetti in [25]. Here, by way of illustration, is one example:-
Once, during my first piece of work on the comparison between the purchasing power of salaries and wages, he went to central America and on his return fifteen days later he checked the number of numerical calculations I had made during his absence and, as he thought I had not worked enough, he threatened to sack me. He was not the type of person to threaten in vain!
Benedetti also remarked that Gini gave very few lectures. His commitments meant that he was often away on research visits, attending conferences, on scientific expeditions organised by the Italian Committee for Population Studies and other such events. Gini retired from his chair at La Sapienza in 1954 but continued to carry out most of his other tasks such as running Metron and continuing to publish numerous articles. His scientific output throughout his career had been quite extraordinary - he published over 800 papers. He achieved this by working long hours, often working until midnight. His assistants were expected to work the same hours. We mentioned above that he was married and had two daughters, but it is hard to see how he managed to have much of a family life with the kind of work schedule he seems to have kept up throughout his career. We have already mentioned some of his early work. Here are some of his more important later works: Il neo-organicismo (1927); Nascita, evoluzione e morte delle nazioni (1930); Prime linee di patologia economica (1935); I pericoli della statistica (1939); Memorie di metodologia statistica. Vol.1: Variabilità e Concentrazione (1939); Le rilevazioni statistiche tra le popolazioni primitive (1940); Teorie della popolazione (1945); La misura dei fenomeni collettivi (1948); Lezioni di statistica (1951); Ricchezza e reddito (1952); Economia lavorista. Problemi del lavoro (1956); Memorie di metodologia statistica. Vol.2: Transvariazione (1959); and La logica nella statistica (1962).

We have detailed above some of the honours that were given to Gini before World War II. Following the war, he received further awards such as the gold medal for his contribution to the Italian school (1957), election as an honorary member of the Accademia dei Lincei (1962), and the award of an honorary degree by the University of Cordoba, Argentine (1963).

W R Buckland sums up Gini's contributions in [8] as follows:-

Approaching his 80th birthday, Gini is one of the few remaining scholars in the traditional style. Multilateral could be the present-day description, but it sufficient to say here that his name is part of international statistical currency and the man equally well known in view of his long association with the International Statistical Institute, attendance at its sessions and vigorous leadership of the Italian school of statisticians.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

July 2012
MacTutor History of Mathematics