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American Incomes Before and After the Revolution

  • Peter H. Lindert (a1) and Jeffrey G. Williamson (a2) (a3)
Abstract

Building social tables in the tradition of Gregory King, we develop new estimates suggesting that between 1774 and 1800 American incomes fell in real per capita terms. The colonial South was richer than the North at the start, but was already beginning to lose its income lead by 1800. We also find that free American colonists had much more equal incomes than did households in England and Wales. The colonists had greater purchasing power than their English counterparts over all of the income ranks except in the top percent.

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Our work has been aided greatly by a battalion of scholars and archivists. The list of helpful colleagues includes Jeremy Atack, Paul Clemens, Paul David, Farley Grubb, Herb Klein, Allan Kulikoff, Bob Margo, Paul Rhode, Josh Rosenbloom, Carole Shammas, Billy Gordon Smith, Richard Sylla, Sam Williamson, and especially Tom Weiss. Archival help was supplied by, among others, Jan Kinzer (Pennsylvania State Archives), Diana McCain (Connecticut Historical Society), Clifford C. Parker (Chester County Archives), and Marc Thomas (Maryland Historical Society). We thank them, yet absolve them from any responsibility for the results presented here. We also acknowledge with gratitude the research assistance of Lety Arroyo-Abad, Sun Go, Brock Smith, Oscar Mendez Medina, and especially Nick Zolas. The article has also benefitted from earlier suggestions by participants at Warwick-Venice, the NBER summer DAE workshop, the World Economic History Congress (Stellenbosch), the IISH Amsterdam workshop, the EHES Annual Meetings (Dublin), and seminars at Berkeley, Davis, LSE, Michigan, Oxford, and Wisconsin. Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation through the NBER. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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