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Rising Wage Dispersion Across American Manufacturing Establishments, 1850-1880

  • Jeremy Atack
  • Fred Bateman
  • Robert A. Margo

We use data from the manuscript censuses of manufacturing for 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 to study the dispersion of average monthly wages across establishments. We find a marked increased in wage inequality over the period, an increase that cannot be explained by biases in the data or changes in census enumeration procedures. Based on log wage regressions on establishment characteristics we compute a decomposition of the change in wage inequality between 1850 and 1880. The decomposition reveals that changes in wage structure' the regression coefficients and the standard error of the residuals largely offset each: changes in the coefficients produced a reduction in wage inequality, while residual inequality increased. Most of the rise in wage inequality can be attributed to an increased concentration of employment in large establishments, which paid relatively low wages. We present indirect evidence that the negative effect of size on wages reflected differences in skill composition: workforces in large establishments were less skilled than in small establishments.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7932.

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Date of creation: Oct 2000
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7932
Note: DAE LS
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  1. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1996. "Was There a National Labor Market at the End of the Nineteenth Century? New Evidence on Earnings in Manufacturing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(03), pages 626-656, September.
  2. Claudia Goldin & Hugh Rockoff, 1992. "Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gold92-1, October.
  3. Brown, Martin & Philips, Peter, 1986. "Craft Labor and Mechanization in Nineteenth-Century American Canning," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(03), pages 743-756, September.
  4. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709.
  5. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1998. "The Origins Of Technology-Skill Complementarity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(3), pages 693-732, August.
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  7. Kenneth L. Sokoloff, 1984. "Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Factory Associated with Gains in Efficiency?: Evidence from the U.S. Manufacturing Censuses of 1820 and 1850," UCLA Economics Working Papers 300, UCLA Department of Economics.
  8. Brown, Charles & Medoff, James, 1989. "The Employer Size-Wage Effect," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1027-59, October.
  9. Goldin, Claudia & Sokoloff, Kenneth, 1982. "Women, Children, and Industrialization in the Early Republic: Evidence from the Manufacturing Censuses," Scholarly Articles 2664292, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  10. Howard Bodenhorn & Hugh Rockoff, 1992. "Regional Interest Rates in Antebellum America," NBER Chapters, in: Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel, pages 159-187 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-42, June.
  12. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1999. "The Returns to Skill in the United States across the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 7126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Goldin, Claudia & Margo, Robert A, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34, February.
  14. Coelho, Philip R. P. & Shepherd, James F., 1976. "Regional differences in real wages: The United States, 1851-1880," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 203-230, April.
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