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The Farm Labor Force by Region, 1820-1860: Revised Estimates and Implications for Growth


  • Thomas Weiss


This paper sets forth new estimates of the farm labor force covering the period 1820 to 1860, for the United States and the major geographic regions. At the national level, the new figures are noticeably different from the previous estimates. In particular, the new estimates lower the 1820 farm labor force by about 8 percent, while raising the figures for 1840, 1850, and 1860 by 7 to 10 percent. As a consequence, the farm work force grew more rapidly than was previously believed, while farm productivity and per capita income grew more slowly. The impact of the revisions, of course, varied by subperiod. The new figures also alter our picture of variations in regional economic performance, the more so in some regions. In particular, the pace and timing of the shift out of farming in New England has been changed substantially. The paper also discusses the reasons for the discrepancies between the new and old series, and provides some assessment of the new evidence.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Weiss, 1987. "The Farm Labor Force by Region, 1820-1860: Revised Estimates and Implications for Growth," NBER Working Papers 2438, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2438
    Note: DAE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daniel Carson, 1949. "Changes in the Industrial Composition of Manpower since the Civil War," NBER Chapters, in: Studies in Income and Wealth, Volume 11, pages 46-150, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Weiss, Thomas, 1967. "The Service Sector in the United States, 1839 to 1899," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(4), pages 625-628, December.
    3. David, Paul A., 1967. "The Growth of Real Product in the United States Before 1840: New Evidence, Controlled Conjectures," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(2), pages 151-197, June.
    4. Field, Alexander James, 1978. "Sectoral shift in antebellum Massachusetts: A reconsideration," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 146-171, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Berthold Herrendorf & Arilton Teixeira & James A. Schmitz, 2009. "Transportation and development: insights from the U.S., 1840-1860," Staff Report 425, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    2. Thomas Weiss, 1989. "Economic Growth Before 1860: Revised Conjectures," NBER Historical Working Papers 0007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Alan L. Olmstead & Paul W. Rhode, 2010. "Productivity Growth and the Regional Dynamics of Antebellum Southern Development," NBER Working Papers 16494, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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