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

Listed author(s):
  • Robert A. Margo

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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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0019.

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Date of creation: Dec 1990
Publication status: published as Robert Gallman and John Wallis,eds., American Economic Growth and the Standard of Living Before the Civil War, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 173-210
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0019
Note: DAE
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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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