The Farm-Nonfarm Wage Gap in the Antebellum United States: Evidence fromthe 1850 and 1860 Censuses of Social Statistics
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 72
Sectoral wage gaps for workers of comparable skill are central to issues in economic development and economic history. This paper presents new archival evidence on the farm-nonfarm wage gap for the United States just prior to the American Civil War. Measured at the level of local labor markets, the wage gaps are small and not very persistent over time. Aggregated to reflect the geographic distribution of farm and nonfarm labor, the gaps are larger than previously thought. I also show that investment in manufacturing capital between 1850 and 1860 responded to labor market inefficiencies indicated by the gaps: counties with relatively low farm wages experienced above-average investment.