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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 and saving rates of ordinary Americans through their accounts at the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society. the oldest mutual savings bank in the United States founded in 1816 to encourage thrift among the working poor. Our sample contains the 2.374 accounts opened in 1850. of which one-quarter were linked to the 1850 census manuscripts. Savings accounts were generally brief affairs; only 30 percent lasted more than 5 years. But median balances mounted to about three-quarters of annual income in about three to four years. Deposits and withdrawals were infrequent. but substantial. The median deposit was about 1 to 2 months of gross income whereas the median withdrawal represented about 2 to 3 months but occurred far less often. Account holders. then. did not generally use their accounts for the short-run fluctuations in income we suspect they experienced. Only female servants. as a group. used their accounts for life-cycle savings eventually amassing large nest eggs through steady but slow accumulation. Men often used their accounts to hold funds on route to acquiring physical property. Estimated saving rates range from a low of 12 percent to a more sensible one of 21 percent among only 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
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  1. Fishlow, Albert, 1961. "The Trustee Savings Banks, 1817–1861," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 21(01), pages 26-40, March.
  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.
  3. Deaton, A., 1989. "Saving And Liquidity Constraints," Papers 153, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
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