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Fixing the Facts: Editing of the 1880 U.S. Census of Occupations with Implications for Long-Term Trends and the Sociology of Official Statistics

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  • Susan B. Carter
  • Richard Sutch
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    Abstract

    We argue that the enumerators' occupational returns from the important census of 1880 were heavily edited prior to publication. The effect was to substantially reduce the number of individuals reported with an occupation. For youthful and older males and all women the editing was so substantial as to qualitatively affect the apparent trend in labor force participation for these groups over time. The stylized facts regarding labor market dynamics during the period of American industrialization and the historical stories constructed around them will now need to be reexamined. We contend that the editing was secretly authorized by Francis Amasa Walker, Superintendent of the Tenth Census of 1880 and one of the most prominent and decorated economists, statisticians, and public servants in America at this time. While other scholars have identified potential sources of bias in census figures, no one has heretofore suggested that the official statistics of the United States were covertly altered to present a picture different from information collected by census enumerators. If we are correct, the sociology of official nineteenth-century American statistics will require rethinking.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0074.

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    Date of creation: Oct 1995
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0074

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    1. Parsons, Donald O & Goldin, Claudia, 1989. "Parental Altruism and Self-Interest: Child Labor among Late Nineteenth-Century American Families," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 27(4), pages 637-59, October.
    2. Dora L. Costa, 1994. "Agricultural Decline and the Secular Rise in Male Retirement Rates," NBER Historical Working Papers 0055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Moen, Jon, 1987. "The Labor of Older Men: A Comment," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(03), pages 761-767, September.
    4. Claudia Goldin, 1990. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gold90-1, July.
    5. Field, Alexander James, 1978. "Sectoral shift in antebellum Massachusetts: A reconsideration," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 146-171, April.
    6. Fishlow, Albert, 1966. "Levels of Nineteenth-Century American Investment in Education," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(04), pages 418-436, December.
    7. Landes, William M. & Solmon, Lewis C., 1972. "Compulsory Schooling Legislation: An Economic Analysis of Law and Social Change in the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(01), pages 54-91, March.
    8. H. L. Bliss, 1905. "Census Statistics of Child Labor," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13, pages 245.
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