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American Incomes 1774-1860

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  • Peter H. Lindert
  • Jeffrey G. Williamson

Abstract

Building what we call social tables, this paper quantifies the level and inequality of American incomes from 1774 to 1860. In 1774 the American colonies had average incomes exceeding those of the Mother Country, even when slave households are included in the aggregate. Between 1774 and 1790, this income advantage over Britain was lost, due to the severe dislocation caused by the fight for Independence. Then between 1790 and 1860 US income per capita grew even faster than previous scholars have estimated. We also find that the South was initially much richer than the North on the eve of Revolution, but then suffered a severe reversal of fortune, so that by 1840 its white population was already poorer than free Northerners. In terms of inequality, our estimates suggest that American colonists had much more equal incomes than did households in England and Wales around 1774. Indeed, New England and the Middle Colonies appear to have been more egalitarian than anywhere else in the measureable world. Income inequality rose dramatically between 1774 and 1860, especially in the South. The paper uses an open-source style, since our data processing is posted on http://gpih.ucdavis.edu (click on the folder "American incomes 1774-1870"). Detailed defense of the 1774 and 1800 benchmarks can be found in our previous NBER working paper (17211, July 2011), although the estimates reported here are revised. The 1860 estimates are completely new.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter H. Lindert & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2012. "American Incomes 1774-1860," NBER Working Papers 18396, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18396
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Milanovic, Branko, 2013. "The return of “patrimonial capitalism”: review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st century," MPRA Paper 52384, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. repec:eee:exehis:v:67:y:2018:i:c:p:62-79 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Modalsli, Jørgen, 2018. "The regional dispersion of income inequality in nineteenth-century Norway," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 62-79.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N91 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • O51 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - U.S.; Canada

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