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The American Frontier: A Hundred Years of Western Settlement

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Abstract

What drove western population growth in the U.S. during the 19th century? The facts are: (i) The birth ratio was higher in the West than in the East. Both exhibited a secular decline. (ii) Between 1800 and 1810 net migration accounted for 88% of the rate of population growth in the northwest region. The rest derived from natural increase. From 1890 to 1900, this share dropped to 35%, with natural increase accounting for 65%. To account for these facts, a general equilibrium model is developed with three ingredients: endogenous fertility, investment in land, and migration. The secular decline in fertility is driven by the rise in real wages. The relative abundance of land in the West promotes higher fertility. The model is simulated to see whether it can match the time-series decomposition of population growth between migration and fertility. It can

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