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Wages and Prices during the Antebellum Period: A Survey and New Evidence

In: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War

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  • Robert A. Margo

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to survey recent research on wages and prices in the united States before the civil War. The basic conclusion is that, while much progress has been made in documenting regional, temporal and occupational differentials, further insights will require a large amount of new evidence, particularly on retail prices. The paper also uses existing regional data on wholesale prices to construct new regional indices of real wages for artisans and unskilled labor from 1821 to 1856. The new indices suggest that real wage growth was less than previously thought in the 1930s and that growth was, by comparison with later periods in American history, very erratic in the short-run. The erratic nature of real wage growth was a consequence of persistent effects of price and real shocks.
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Suggested Citation

  • Robert A. Margo, 1992. "Wages and Prices during the Antebellum Period: A Survey and New Evidence," NBER Chapters,in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 173-216 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:8010
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. James, John A. & Skinner, Jonathan S., 1985. "The Resolution of the Labor-Scarcity Paradox," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 45(03), pages 513-540, September.
    2. Rothenberg, Winifred B., 1988. "The Emergence of Farm Labor Markets and the Transformation of the Rural Economy: Massachusetts, 1750–1855," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(03), pages 537-566, September.
    3. James, John A., 1989. "The stability of the 19th-century Phillips curve relationship," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 117-134, April.
    4. 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.
    5. Peter H. Lindert & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 1983. "English Workers’Living Standards During the Industrial Revolution: A New Look," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 36(1), pages 1-25, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ferrie, Joseph P., 1997. "The Entry into the U.S. Labor Market of Antebellum European Immigrants, 1840-1860," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 295-330, July.
    2. Matthew Slaughter, 2001. "Does trade liberalization converge factor prices? Evidence from the antebellum transportation revolution," The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(3), pages 339-362.
    3. Robert A. Mareo, 1994. "The Price of Housing in New York City, 1830-1860," NBER Historical Working Papers 0063, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. 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.
    5. Matthew J. Slaughter, 1995. "The Antebellum Transportation Revolution and Factor-Price Convergence," NBER Working Papers 5303, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Michael R. Haines & Lee A. Craig & Thomas Weiss, 2000. "Development, Health, Nutrition, and Mortality: The Case of the 'Antebellum Puzzle' in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0130, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Joshua L. Rosenbloom, 1996. "The Extent of the Labor Market in the United States, 1850-1914," NBER Historical Working Papers 0078, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Robert A. Margo, 2000. "The History of Wage Inequality in America, 1920 to 1970," Macroeconomics 0004035, EconWPA.
    9. Lynne L. Kiesling & Robert A. Margo, 1996. "Explaining the Rise in Antebellum Pauperism: New Evidence," NBER Historical Working Papers 0092, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Joseph P. Ferrie, 1996. "The Entry Into the U.S. Labor Market of Antebellum European Immigrants, 1840-60," NBER Historical Working Papers 0088, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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