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The Intergenerational Effects of a Large Wealth Shock: White Southerners After the Civil War

Philipp Ager, Leah Platt Boustan, Katherine Eriksson

NBER Working Paper No. 25700
Issued in March 2019, Revised in September 2019
NBER Program(s):The Program on Children, The Program on the Development of the American Economy, The Labor Studies Program

The nullification of slave wealth after the U.S. Civil War (1861-65) was one of the largest episodes of wealth compressions in history. We document that white Southern households holding more slave assets in 1860 lost substantially more wealth by 1870, relative to households that had been equally wealthy before the war. Yet, the sons of former slaveholders recovered relative to comparable sons by 1900, and grandsons surpassed their counterparts in educational and occupational attainment by 1940. We find that social networks facilitated this recovery, with sons marrying into other former slaveholding families. Transmission of entrepreneurship and skills appear less central.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25700

 
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