NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Antebellum "Surge" in Skill Differentials One More Time: New Evidence

Robert A. Margo, Georgia C. Villaflor

NBER Working Paper No. 1758
Issued in October 1985
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

Changes in the skill differential are often used by economic historians to proxy changes in income inequality. According to Jeffrey Williamson and Peter Lindert, American skill differentials rose sharply between 1820 and 1860, which they interpret as increasing income inequality. Using a large, new sample of wage rates drawn from military records, we find no evidence of an aggregate "surge" in antebellum skill differentials. We do find, however, that skill differentials on the frontier rose relative to levels in settled areas. We show how a reduction in the costs of migrating from old to new regions can explain this finding.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1758

Published: Margo, Robert and Georgia Villaflor. "The Growth of Wages in Antebellum America: New Evidence," Vol. 47, No. 4, December 1987.

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