Sectoral Shift and Labor Force Participation of Older Males in the United States, 1880-1940
A Traditional explanation for the fall in the labor force participation of older males in the era of industrialization is that it was in part produced by the decline in agriculture. A number of recent studies rejected this view based on the result that farmers were no less likely to retire than were nonfarmers. An examination of a longer period, however, shows that farmers were less likely to retire than were nonfarmers, as the conventional view suggests. Only the first decade of the twentieth century, which the revisionist view drew evidence from, exhibits the opposite pattern. This peculiarity of the years between 1900 to 1910 is likely to have resulted from the unusually high appreciation of farm property during the same period that would have stimulated retirement of farmers. According to the counterfactual LFPR of older males that would have resulted had there been no decline in the relative size of agriculture since 1820, the decrease in the labor force employed in farming accounts for about 20 percent of the fall in the LFPR of men 60 and older between 1880 and 1940.
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