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Poverty and Prosperity: A Longitudinal Study of Wealth Accumulation, 1850-1860

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  • Richard H. Steckel

Abstract

This paper depicts and analyzes the wealth distribution and wealth mobility in a national sample of nearly 1,600 households matched in the 1850 and 1860 manuscript schedules of the census. Gini coefficients, a transition matrix, the Shorrocks measure, and a regression model of wealth accumulation are estimated from these data. The findings shed light on theories of the wealth distribution, life-cycle behavior, regional economic performance, and the empirical basis for critiques of capitalism. Blacks accumulated slowly but the foreign born performed remarkably well. The distribution of wealth was relatively unequal on the frontier but the region performed well in reducing propertylessness. Residents of eastern cities were less fluid than other residents of the rural North. Blue collar workers and the unskilled declined relative to farmers and white-collar workers during the decade, which suggests that other aspects of wealth determination may have outweighed stretching of the wage structure as an explanation of growing inequality during industrialization. Comparisons with data on net family assets collected by the National Longitudinal Survey in the 1960s and 1970s show that mid-nineteenth century households were less mobile at the lower end but more mobile at the upper end of the wealth distribution.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0008.

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Date of creation: Dec 1989
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Publication status: published as Steckel, Richard H. "Poverty And Prosperity: A Longitudinal Study Of Wealth Accumulation, 1850-1860," Review of Economics and Statistics, 1990, v72(2), 275-285.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0008

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Cited by:
  1. Burger, Ronelle & Booysen, Frikkie & Berg, Servaas van der & Maltitz, Michael von, 2006. "Marketable Wealth in a Poor African Country," MPRA Paper 9063, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Burger, Ronelle & Booysen, Frikkie & van der Berg, Servaas & von Maltitz, Michael, 2006. "Marketable Wealth in a Poor African Country: Using an index of consumer durables to investigate wealth accumulation by households in Ghana," Working Paper Series RP2006/138, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  3. Livio Di Matteo, 2008. "Wealth accumulation motives: evidence from the probate records of Ontario, 1892 and 1902," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 2(2), pages 143-171, July.
  4. Joshua L. Rosenbloom & Gregory W. Stutes, 2005. "Reexamining the Distribution of Wealth in 1870," NBER Working Papers 11482, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Di Matteo, Livio, 2013. "Women, wealth and economic change: An assessment of the impact of women's property law in Wentworth County, Ontario, 1872–1927," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 285-307.

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