This chapter reviews the empirical literature on the expansion of educational institutions and the human capital stock of the United States over the past two and a half centuries. Using evidence on literacy, numeracy, and years of education, it details the remarkable growth of the American human capital stock and discusses trends in racial and gender gaps in educational attainment. The chapter then outlines the development of the educational institutions that facilitated the growth of the human capital stock, discussing the political and social forces shaping the expansion of schools. This overview includes an emphasis on the consequences of the uniquely public and decentralized nature of American schools. Finally, the chapter examines the literature on the decision to attend those schools, considering the roles of the private returns to education, health, family characteristics, and compulsory schooling laws.
The late nineteenth century witnessed the beginning of a strong, downward trend in mortality in the United States. Economists and others have been identifying and measuring the factors that contributed to these gains in health and to the growth of the healthcare sector over the twentieth century. This chapter attempts to organize and enumerate their various contributions and to suggest directions for future research. Most work falls under one of several strands of research. Public health efforts, innovations in medical technology, and the rise of social insurance and health insurance all play important roles in explaining the decline in mortality, the improvement in health in the United States over the twentieth century, and the growth in the healthcare sector.
Louis P. Cain, Price V. Fishback, and Paul W. Rhode
This introduction offers an overview of the research discussed in the 37 chapters in the Oxford Handbook of American Economic History. It discusses the path of economic growth and development and the methods that economic historians have used to measure and analyze them. Over the last 300 years population growth has slowed, and the population has lived longer and healthier lives. The economy has shifted from predominantly agricultural through a major industrialization period into a service-based modern economy largely located in urban areas. Per capita incomes have grown largely through increased productivity from improved technologies, better education, improved organizations of processes, and governments that established private property rights, rule of law, and protections of individual freedom. Capital aspects of the economy have varied more than commonly known, and financial institutions have gone through several innovations as their regulatory regimes have waxed and waned. A diverse population of men, women, ethnic groups, races, and ages played major roles in labor markets. Labor market institutions changed with the elimination of slavery, the development of “at will” contracts, internal labor markets, and changing treatment of collective bargaining. In the federal system of governments, states were initially the dominant actors, followed by local governments in the late nineteenth century, and then an expansion of all governments and the national government in the last hundred years, partially in response to the major crises of the World Wars and the Great Depression.
Changkeun Lee and Paul W. Rhode
Over past 200 years, industrialization was the driving force in the economic development of most nations experiencing “modern economic growth.” Industrial activity generally expanded faster than the economy as a whole, and the sector grew to account for sizable shares of output, employment, and trade. Manufacturing activities have generally experienced faster rates of productivity growth than the economy as a whole and the sector has often paid higher labor wages. Manufacturing also contributes materiel and technology for military purposes. For these reasons, policymakers and the public have long viewed manufacturing as being of greater importance than other activities. This chapter surveys growth and structural change in the American manufacturing sector over the past 200 years. It chronicles the sector’s transformation during the first (1810–1860), second (1870–1920), and third (1970–present) industrial revolutions. It examines the forces, such as globalization, information technologies, and deindustrialization, shaping the sector today.
This chapter surveys the role of natural resources in American economic history, from colonial times to the present. The central theme is that natural resources do indeed have a history: to a very considerable degree, American resource abundance has been “socially constructed” through responses to economic incentives, investments in transportation, and development of technologies of exploration and extraction using advanced forms of knowledge. During the nineteenth century, Americans adapted their technologies and consumption patterns toward wood to an extent unmatched in the world at that time. The country’s rise to world leadership in minerals was not based primarily on geological endowment, but on an accommodating legal environment, expansion of the infrastructure of public knowledge, and investment in higher mining education. Recent American developments in shale oil and shale gas confirm the historical generalization that natural resources are not given by nature but by policy choices and human behavior.
Stephen N. Broadberry, Louis P. Cain, and Thomas Weiss
This chapter chronicles the transformation of the US economy to one where over 80 percent of the labor force is employed in the service sector. The initial section discusses the difficult task of defining services—the service industries as opposed to the service sector. The growth of services began earlier and increased faster in the United States than in other countries. The discussion of this growth is divided into sections on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The roles of education, the entry of women into the labor force, self-employment, and foreign trade are discussed. The final section concentrates on services’ role in the comparative productivity performance of the US, UK, and German economies.