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The Savings of Ordinary Americans: The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

  • Alter, George
  • Goldin, Claudia
  • Rotella, Elyce

We explore the savings behavior of ordinary Americans through their accounts at the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, the oldest mutual savings bank in the United States. Our sample contains all 2,374 accounts opened in 1850. Savings accounts were generally brief affairs, but median balances mounted to about three-quarters of annual income in three years. Deposits and withdrawals were infrequent, but substantial. Only female servants, as a group, used their accounts for life-cycle savings, eventually amassing large nest eggs. Men often used them to hold funds before acquiring physical property. We estimate saving rates between 10 and 15 percent on active accounts.

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Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal The Journal of Economic History.

Volume (Year): 54 (1994)
Issue (Month): 04 (December)
Pages: 735-767

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:54:y:1994:i:04:p:735-767_01
Contact details of provider: Postal: Cambridge University Press, UPH, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge CB2 8BS UK
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  1. Angus Deaton, 1989. "Saving and Liquidity Constraints," NBER Working Papers 3196, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Goldin, Claudia & Rockoff, Hugh (ed.), 1992. "Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226301129, March.
  3. Fishlow, Albert, 1961. "The Trustee Savings Banks, 1817–1861," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 21(01), pages 26-40, March.
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