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Economics Research Institute Study Paper




Utah State University Department of Economics

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Careful studies of the distribution of income in nineteenth-century United States have been hampered by a paucity of available data. This study undertakes the analysis of factors influencing the distribution of personal income in the Great Basin region of the western United States during the period 1855-1900. The study utilizes estimates of full income by individual based on information contained in the General Economic Records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mean income and Gini ratios are calculated for the region for the years 1855,1857,1859,1861,1866,1868,1870,1872,1880, 1885, 18980, 1895, and 1900. The number of individuals included in the sample increases from 4,800 in 1855 to 51,000 in 1900, representing from one-third to two-thirds of all income earners in the region. Econometric analysis is undertaken to identify the impact on income distribution of changes in mean income, population, urbanization, crop destruction by grasshoppers, and the percentage of the population born in non-English speaking countries. The econometric results suggest that the regional economy of the Great Basin remained in the "early" stages of economic development throughout the territorial period (1850-1896). The problem of generalizing the results of this study to other frontier regions of the United States is also discussed.