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Labor Market Integration Before the Civil War

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  • Robert A. Margo

Abstract

This paper uses newly collected archival evidence to examine various aspects of the geographic performance of American labor markets before the Civil War. Much of the paper addresses the evolution of regional differences in real wages, of interest to economic historians because they speak to the formation of a national labor market.' In the North, real wages followed a pattern of convergence: wages were highest initially on the frontier -- the Midwest -- but tended to decline relative to real wages in settled regions -- the Northeast -- as labor migrated to the frontier. In the South, regional wage gaps were generally smaller than in the North, but real wages in the South fell significantly below Northern levels beginning in the 1830's. In addition to regional differences, I also examine wage convergence at the level of local labor markets, proxied by counties, using manuscript census data for 1850 and 1860. I find strong evidence of regression to the mean: high wage counties in 1850 were far less likely to be high wage in 1860. Such evidence is consistent with the view that antebellum local labor markets were spatially integrated.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6643.

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Date of creation: Jul 1998
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Publication status: Published as "Wages and Labor Markets Before the Civil War", American Economic Review, Vol. 88, no. 2 (May 1998): 51-56.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6643

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  1. Coffman, Chad & Gregson, Mary Eschelbach, 1998. "Railroad Development and Land Value," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 191-204, March.
  2. Coelho, Philip R. P. & Shepherd, James F., 1976. "Regional differences in real wages: The United States, 1851-1880," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 203-230, April.
  3. Goldin, Claudia & Sokoloff, Kenneth, 1982. "Women, Children, and Industrialization in the Early Republic: Evidence from the Manufacturing Censuses," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(04), pages 741-774, December.
  4. David W. Galenson & Clayne L. Pope, 1992. "Precedence and Wealth: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century Utah," NBER Chapters, in: Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel, pages 225-241 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Kenneth L. Sokoloff & Georgia C. Villaflor, 1991. "The Market for Manufacturing Workers During Early Industrialization: The American Northeast, 1820 to 1860," NBER Historical Working Papers 0028, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Richard H. Steckel, 1982. "The Economic Foundations of East-West Migration During the Nineteenth Century," NBER Working Papers 0881, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Claudia Goldin & Hugh Rockoff, 1992. "Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gold92-1.
  8. Howard Bodenhorn & Hugh Rockoff, 1992. "Regional Interest Rates in Antebellum America," NBER Chapters, in: Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel, pages 159-187 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Matthew J. Slaughter, 1995. "The Antebellum Transportation Revolution and Factor-Price Convergence," NBER Working Papers 5303, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1996. "Was There a National Labor Market at the End of the Nineteenth Century? New Evidence on Earnings in Manufacturing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(03), pages 626-656, September.
  11. Fleisig, Heywood, 1976. "Slavery, the Supply of Agricultural Labor, and the Industrialization of the South," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 36(03), pages 572-597, September.
  12. Margo, Robert A, 1998. "Wages and Labor Markets before the Civil War," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 51-56, May.
  13. Craig, Lee A & Palmquist, Raymond B & Weiss, Thomas, 1998. "Transportation Improvements and Land Values in the Antebellum United States: A Hedonic Approach," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 173-89, March.
  14. O'Rourke, Kevin & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1994. "Late Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Factor-Price Convergence: Were Heckscher and Ohlin Right?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(04), pages 892-916, December.
  15. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1990. "One Market or Many? Labor Market Integration in the Late Nineteenth-Century United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(01), pages 85-107, March.
  16. Thomas J. Weiss, 1992. "U. S. Labor Force Estimates and Economic Growth, 1800-1860," NBER Chapters, in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 19-78 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Michael D. Bordo, 2004. "The United States as a Monetary Union and the Euro: A Historical Perspective," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 24(1-2), pages 163-170, Spring/Su.
  2. Robert A. Margo, 1995. "The Farm-Nonfarm Wage Gap in the Antebellum United States: Evidence fromthe 1850 and 1860 Censuses of Social Statistics," NBER Historical Working Papers 0072, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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