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Labor Market Integration Before the Civil War

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  • Robert A. Margo

Abstract

This paper uses newly collected archival evidence to examine various aspects of the geographic performance of American labor markets before the Civil War. Much of the paper addresses the evolution of regional differences in real wages, of interest to economic historians because they speak to the formation of a national labor market.' In the North, real wages followed a pattern of convergence: wages were highest initially on the frontier -- the Midwest -- but tended to decline relative to real wages in settled regions -- the Northeast -- as labor migrated to the frontier. In the South, regional wage gaps were generally smaller than in the North, but real wages in the South fell significantly below Northern levels beginning in the 1830's. In addition to regional differences, I also examine wage convergence at the level of local labor markets, proxied by counties, using manuscript census data for 1850 and 1860. I find strong evidence of regression to the mean: high wage counties in 1850 were far less likely to be high wage in 1860. Such evidence is consistent with the view that antebellum local labor markets were spatially integrated.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert A. Margo, 1998. "Labor Market Integration Before the Civil War," NBER Working Papers 6643, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6643 Note: DAE
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    1. Williamson Jeffrey G., 1995. "The Evolution of Global Labor Markets since 1830: Background Evidence and Hypotheses," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 141-196, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Robert A. Margo, 1995. "The Farm-Nonfarm Wage Gap in the Antebellum United States: Evidence fromthe 1850 and 1860 Censuses of Social Statistics," NBER Historical Working Papers 0072, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Michael D. Bordo, 2004. "The United States as a Monetary Union and the Euro: A Historical Perspective," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 24(1-2), pages 163-170, Spring/Su.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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