Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

Pauper Fiction in Economic Science: "Paupers in Almshouses" and the Odd Fit of Oliver Twist


Author Info

  • Stephen Ziliak
Registered author(s):


    The almshouse dominated the thinking about poverty and the poor during America's period of industrialization and its greatest economic downturns. Yet economists had surprisingly little to say about the facts of almshouse demography, and what they have written has been a rather bad fiction when seen in contrast with American novels. The main object of the paper is to delineate typical characters and characteristics of almshouses in America, and to examine the plausibility of various literary characterizations in light of the facts. The data certainly suggest new stories about paupers in American history: economists, and even the new social historians, have gotten it wrong. Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, the typical pauper living in an almshouse was not Oliver Twist (as many believe). He was not the Shiftless Man of the classical imagination (as Malthusians and Benthamites believe). The typical pauper of an American almshouse was plural. Instructive examples in American literature include Lennie, of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men ; Denver, of Toni Morrison's Beloved ; Mrs. Thomson, of Edward Eggleston's The Hoosier School-Master ; and Forrest Gump, of Winston Groom's Forrest Gump .

    Download Info

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Review of Social Economy.

    Volume (Year): 60 (2002)
    Issue (Month): 2 ()
    Pages: 159-181

    as in new window
    Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:60:y:2002:i:2:p:159-181

    Contact details of provider:
    Web page:

    Order Information:

    Related research

    Keywords: Welfare; Poverty; History; Rhetoric; Fiction; Classical Economists;


    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as in new window

    Cited by:
    1. Price V. Fishback & Samuel Allen & Jonathan Fox & Brendan Livingston, 2010. "A Patchwork Safety Net: A Survey of Cliometric Studies of Income Maintenance Programs in the United States in the First Half of the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 15696, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.


    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.


    Access and download statistics


    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:60:y:2002:i:2:p:159-181. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Michael McNulty).

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.