The North-South Wage Gap, Before and After the Civil War

Robert A. Margo

NBER Working Paper No. 8778
Issued in February 2002
NBER Program(s):   DAE   LS

In an economy with 'national' factor markets, the factor price effects of a permanent, regional specific shock register everywhere, perhaps with a brief lag. The United States in the nineteenth century does not appear to have been such an economy. Using data for a variety of occupations, I document that the Civil War occasioned a dramatic divergence in the regional structure of wages -- in particular, wages in the South Atlantic and South Central states relative to the North fell sharply after the War. The divergence was immediate, being apparent as early as 1866. It was persistent: for none of the occupations examined did the regional wage structure return to its ante-bellum configuration by century's end. The divergence cannot be explained by the changing racial composition of the Southern wage labor force after the War, but does appear consistent with a sharp drop in labor productivity in Southern agriculture. I also use previously neglected data to argue that the South probably experienced a decline in the relative price of non-traded goods after the War.

download in pdf format
   (213 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8778

Published: Eltis, D., F. Lewis, and K. Sokoloff (eds.) Slavery in the Development of the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Goldin and Margo Wages, Prices, and Labor Markets before the Civil War
Hutchinson and Margo w10886 The Impact of the Civil War on Capital Intensity and Labor Productivity in Southern Manufacturing
Steckel w0881 The Economic Foundations of East-West Migration During the Nineteenth Century
Sacerdote w9227 Slavery and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital
Ferrie w11324 The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the U.S. Since 1850
NBER Videos

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

Contact Us