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Structural change in the U.S. economy: 1850–1900


  • Dempster, Gregory M.
  • Isaacs, Justin P.


Structural change models are potentially ideal for abstracting from a “watershed” event like the U.S. Civil War, in that they seek to explain the transformation of economies from agricultural to industrial on the basis of labor movement and incentives rather than on technical changes. We define the Civil War as a regime shift that necessitated a structural movement of labor from Southern agriculture to Northern manufacturing, and design empirical tests to determine whether this formulation fits the empirical data better than theories, such as the Beard–Hacker thesis, that characterize the U.S. transformation as an abrupt adjustment to technical shocks. We conclude that the data indicate just such a structural movement.

Suggested Citation

  • Dempster, Gregory M. & Isaacs, Justin P., 2014. "Structural change in the U.S. economy: 1850–1900," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 112-123.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:streco:v:31:y:2014:i:c:p:112-123
    DOI: 10.1016/j.strueco.2014.09.004

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hutchinson, William K. & Margo, Robert A., 2006. "The impact of the Civil War on capital intensity and labor productivity in southern manufacturing," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 689-704, October.
    2. Mandle, Jay R., 1974. "The Plantation States as a Sub-Region of the Post-Bellum South," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 34(03), pages 732-738, September.
    3. Temin, Peter, 1976. "The Post-Bellum Recovery of the South and the Cost of the Civil War," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 36(04), pages 898-907, December.
    4. Gustav Ranis, 2004. "ARTHUR LEWIS's CONTRIBUTION TO DEVELOPMENT THINKING AND POLICY," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 72(6), pages 712-723, December.
    5. Calomiris, Charles W. & Hanes, Christopher, 1994. "Consistent Output Series for the Antebellum and Postbellum Periods: Issues and Preliminary Results," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(02), pages 409-422, June.
    6. Ranis, Gustav, 2004. "Arthur Lewis' Contribution to Development Thinking and Policy," Center Discussion Papers 28410, Yale University, Economic Growth Center.
    7. Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1974. "Watersheds and Turning Points: Conjectures on the Long-Term Impact of Civil War Financing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 34(03), pages 636-661, September.
    8. Warren C. Whatley, 1985. "A History of Mechanization in the Cotton South: The Institutional Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(4), pages 1191-1215.
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    More about this item


    U.S. Civil War; Beard–Hacker thesis; Lewis two-sector model; Structural change models;

    JEL classification:

    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation
    • N9 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • O4 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity


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