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The Population of the United States, 1790-1920


  • Michael R. Haines


In the 130 years from the first federal census of the United States in 1790, the American population increased from about 4 million men to almost 107 million persons. This was predominantly due to natural increase, early driven by high birth rates and moderate motrality levels and after the Civil War by declining death rates. In addition, over 33 million recorded immigrant arrivals increased the growth rate. By the two decades prior to World War I, about one third of total increase originated in net migration. A number of unusual features characterized the American demographic transition over the `long' nineteenth century. The fertility transition was early (dating from at least 1800) and from very high levels. The average woman had over seven livebirths in 1800. The crude birth rate declined from about 55 in 1800 to about 25 in 1920. This occurred before 1860 in an environment without widespread urbanization and industrialization in most of the nation. Mortality levels were moderate, and death rates began their sustained decline only by the 1870s, long after the fertility transition had begun. This constrast to the more usual stylization of the demographic transition in which mortality decline precedes or accompanies the fertility transition. Internal migration in the United States was also distinctive. Over most of the 19th century flows followed east-west axes although this began to weaken as rural-urban migration began to supplant westward rural migration in importance. International migra- tion proceeded in waves and changed its character as the `new' migration from eastern and southern Europe replaced `old' migration from western and northern Europe.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael R. Haines, 1994. "The Population of the United States, 1790-1920," NBER Historical Working Papers 0056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0056

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1990. "Labor Market Institutions and the Geographic Integration of Labor Markets in the Late Nineteenth-Century United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(02), pages 440-441, June.
    2. Dunlevy, James A, 1980. "Nineteenth-Century European Immigration to the United States: Intended versus Lifetime Settlement Patterns," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 77-90, October.
    3. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1990. "One Market or Many? Labor Market Integration in the Late Nineteenth-Century United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(01), pages 85-107, March.
    4. Snowden, Kenneth A., 1987. "Mortgage Rates and American Capital Market Development in the Late Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(03), pages 671-691, September.
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    1. Mario Sanchez, 2003. "Internal Migration, Return Migration, and Mortality. Evidence from Panel Data on Union Army Veterans," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 203-230 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Raven Molloy & Christopher L. Smith & Abigail Wozniak, 2011. "Internal Migration in the United States," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 173-196, Summer.
    3. Michele Boldrin & Larry E. Jones & Alice Schoonbroodt, 2005. "From Busts to Booms in Babies and Goodies," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000379, UCLA Department of Economics.
    4. Oded Galor & Andrew Mountford, 2008. "Trading Population for Productivity: Theory and Evidence," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 1143-1179.
    5. Larry Jones & Alice Schoonbrodt, 2016. "Baby Busts and Baby Booms: The Fertility Response to Shocks in Dynastic Models," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 22, pages 157-178, October.
    6. Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2008. "The American Frontier: Technology versus Immigration," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 11(2), pages 283-301, April.
    7. Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2008. "The U.S. Westward Expansion," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 49(1), pages 81-110, February.
    8. Casper Worm Hansen & Peter Sandholt Jensen & Lars Lønstrup, 2014. "The Fertility Transition in the US: Schooling or Income?," Economics Working Papers 2014-02, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
    9. Jeremy Greenwood & Ananth Seshadri & Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2005. "The Baby Boom and Baby Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 183-207, March.
    10. Matthias Doepke & Michèle Tertilt, 2009. "Women's Liberation: What's in It for Men?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1541-1591.
    11. Timothy W. Guinnane, 2011. "The Historical Fertility Transition: A Guide for Economists," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(3), pages 589-614, September.
    12. Joel Perlmann, 2010. "A Demographic Base for Ethnic Survival? Blending Across Four Generations of German-Americans," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_646, Levy Economics Institute.
    13. Wozniak, Abigail & Murray, Thomas J., 2012. "Timing is everything: Short-run population impacts of immigration in US cities," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 60-78.
    14. Martha J. Bailey & Melanie Guldi & Brad J. Hershbein, 2014. "Is There a Case for a "Second Demographic Transition"? Three Distinctive Features of the Post-1960 U.S. Fertility Decline," NBER Chapters,in: Human Capital in History: The American Record, pages 273-312 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Raquel Fernández, 2009. "Women's Rights and Development," NBER Working Papers 15355, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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