NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the U.S. Since 1850

Joseph P. Ferrie

NBER Working Paper No. 11324
Issued in May 2005
NBER Program(s):   DAE   LS

New longitudinal data on individuals linked across nineteenth century U.S. censuses document the geographic and occupational mobility of more than 75,000 Americans from the 1850s to the 1920s. Together with longitudinal data for more recent years, these data make possible for the first time systematic comparisons of mobility over the last 150 years of American economic development, as well as cross-national comparisons for the nineteenth century. The U.S. was a substantially more mobile economy than Britain between 1850 and 1880. But both intergenerational occupational mobility and geographic mobility have declined in the U.S. since the beginning of the twentieth century, leaving much less apparent two aspects of the “American Exceptionalism” noted by nineteenth century observers.

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Published: Ferrie, Joseph P. "History Lessons: The End Of American Exceptionalism? Mobility In The United States Since 1850," Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2005, v19(3,Summer), 199-215.

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