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Long Term Changes in U.S. Agricultural Output per Worker, 1800 to 1900


  • Thomas Weiss


The nineteenth century was a period of expansion and transformation of American agriculture. While much is known about the process, the exact pace and timing of agricultural productivity change is still unresolved. The traditional view is one of continued progress in which output and productivity increased steadily, accelerating over the period. The Civil War is seen as a convenient turning point, and perhaps an episode of greater consequence. More recent work has raised doubts about this picture of steady and accelerating success. The extant statistics on farm output and its labor force indicate that the period before the Civil War had the superior record and experienced particularly rapid productivity growth between 1820 and 1840. This paper presents new estimates of agricultural output per worker, based on revised statistics of the farm labor force and farm gross product. These new figures present a picture of agricultural progress more like the traditional view. Farm productivity grew noticeably faster after the Civil War than before, and important changes appear to have occurred during the Civil War decade.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Weiss, 1991. "Long Term Changes in U.S. Agricultural Output per Worker, 1800 to 1900," NBER Historical Working Papers 0023, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0023
    Note: DAE

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    Cited by:

    1. Robert A. Margo, 2014. "Economies of Scale in Nineteenth-Century American Manufacturing Revisited: A Resolution of the Entrepreneurial Labor Input Problem," NBER Chapters,in: Enterprising America: Businesses, Banks, and Credit Markets in Historical Perspective, pages 215-244 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Broadberry, Stephen N. & Irwin, Douglas A., 2006. "Labor productivity in the United States and the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 257-279, April.
    3. Mundlak, Yair, 2003. "Economic Growth: Lessons From Two Centuries Of American Agriculture," Discussion Papers 14986, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Agricultural Economics and Management.
    4. Peter H. Lindert & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2012. "American Incomes 1774-1860," NBER Working Papers 18396, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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