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Skill Intensity and Rising Wage Dispersion in Nineteenth-Century American Manufacturing


We study the correlates of the monthly establishment wage—the average monthly wage at the establishment level—and changes in wage dispersion between plants using a model of manufacturing developed by Goldin and Katz and data from manuscript censuses of manufacturing. We find that wages were decreasing in establishment size, but increasing in capital intensity and use of steam power. We also find an increase in inequality in the establishment wage between 1850 and 1880. Most of the increase occurred below the median wage and can be attributed, in part, to the growing concentration of employment in large establishments.

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AcemogluDaron. (2002)Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market.” Journal of Economic Literature 40, no. 1 772.

AtackJeremy, and FredBateman. (1999)U.S. Historical Statistics: Nineteenth Century U.S. Industrial Development Through the Eyes of the Census of Manufactures.” Historical Methods 32, no. 4 17788.

AtackJeremy, FredBateman, and Robert A.Margo. 2003Capital Deepening in American Manufacturing, 1850–1880,” manuscript, Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University

DavisSteve J., and JohnHaltiwanger. 1991Wage Dispersion Between and Within U.S. Manufacturing Plants, 1963–1986.” In Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: Microeconomics 1991, 11580. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution

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SokoloffKenneth. (1984)Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Nonmechanized Factory Associated with Gains in Efficiency? Evidence from the U.S. Manufacturing Censuses of 1820 and 1850.” Explorations in Economic History 21, no 4. 35182.

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The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
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