Buying the American Dream: Housing Demand in the United States in the Late Nineteenth Century

Michael R. Haines, Allen C. Goodman

NBER Historical Working Paper No. 5
Issued in August 1989
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

This paper examines homeownership and housing demand for a sample of approximately 6,800 urban, industrial workers in the United States for the period 1889/90. Using data from the Sixth and Seventh Annual Reports of the U.S. Commissioner of Labor, housing demand is viewed as a two part process: first, the "tenure choice" decision whether to own or rent; and, second, how much of either type of housing to purchase. Tenure choice and renter demand equations are estimated, using the concept of expected, rather than current income. Data limitations did not permit estimation of owner demand. The results indicate lower homeownership rates among American workers circa 1890 than later and significant effects on ownership of income, age of household head, region, industry, occupation, ethnicity, and family size and? composition. Rental prices and value/rent ratios had effects in the expected directions. Partial and full elasticities calculated for renter demand reveal downward biases if only current income is used to estimate housing demand. The results indicate that modern housing demand theory performs well with historical data.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/h0005

Published: "Housing Demand in the United States in the Late Nineteenth Century: Evidence from the Commissioner of Labor Survey," Journal of Urban Economics, Vol 21, No.1 ( January,1992)

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