NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Did Railroads Induce or Follow Economic Growth? Urbanization and Population Growth in the American Midwest, 1850-60

Jeremy Atack, Fred Bateman, Michael Haines, Robert A. Margo

NBER Working Paper No. 14640
Issued in January 2009
NBER Program(s):   DAE

For generations of scholars and observers, the "transportation revolution," especially the railroad, has loomed large as a dominant factor in the settlement and development of the United States in the nineteenth century. There has, however, been considerable debate as to whether transportation improvements led economic development or simply followed. Using a newly developed GIS transportation database we examine this issue in the context of the American Midwest, focusing on two indicators of broader economic change, population density and the fraction of population living in urban areas. Our difference in differences estimates (supported by IV robustness checks) strongly suggest that the coming of the railroad had little or no impact upon population densities just as Albert Fishlow concluded some 40 years ago. BUT, our results also imply that the railroad was the "cause" of midwestern urbanization, accounting for more than half of the increase in the fraction of population living in urban areas during the 1850s.

download in pdf format
   (188 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (188 K) or via email.

Acknowledgments

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14640

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Banerjee, Duflo, and Qian w17897 On the Road: Access to Transportation Infrastructure and Economic Growth in China
Kim w11206 Industrialization and Urbanization: Did the Steam Engine Contribute to the Growth of Cities in the United States?
Donaldson w16487 Railroads of the Raj: Estimating the Impact of Transportation Infrastructure
Haines and Margo w12381 Railroads and Local Economic Development: The United States in the 1850s
Atack, Haines, and Margo w14410 Railroads and the Rise of the Factory: Evidence for the United States, 1850-70
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us