Chapter 6: Population and Labor Force

Chapter 6: Population and Labor Force
A growing and expanding Antebellum America was marked by rapid population growth and increased
urbanization. Additionally, many European immigrants came to the U.S. while slave trade ended in
1808. Birth rates began their secular decline and the average size of the family began to shrink. The
economic underpinnings of each trend and the trend’s impact on economic growth are presented in this
Key Terms and Concepts
Durable consumption goods
External economies
Income and wealth distribution
Indentured servitude
Investment goods
Labor force
Life-cycle explanation
Strategic bequest
Targeted bequest
Walker thesis
Teaching Tips
1. Ask students to explain the role of a productive labor force in a growing and prospering
economy. Now lead them into a discussion of how population growth can both help and hinder
economic growth. (Population growth provides more labor to produce goods and services and,
at the same time, it creates more mouths to feed. Consider population growth in India today
and compare it to growth in colonial America. Distinguish the roles of population growth in
these two “country” cases.)
2. Economic forces can explain why children can be treated as durable consumption goods or
investment goods in different environments. Ask students to define each type of good. Use
these definitions to explain why parents in urban areas would have motive to treat children as
durable consumption goods while, at the same time, their rural counterparts with farms would
have incentive to treat children as investment goods. Link the students’ explanations to the
witnessed drops in fertility rates, birth rates, and family sizes in both environments in the
antebellum economy, which was characterized by increasing urbanization and less dependency
on agriculture.
3. Unequal wealth and income distributions are correlated with an economy growing in size and
scope, especially in the early stages of development. Ask students to describe what happened
to wealth and income distributions in antebellum America. Invite them to discuss why these
changes occurred and why they mattered. (These discussions on distribution will surface in
future chapters.)
4. Incentives matter. Ask students to explain under which bequest motive, targeted or strategic,
Easterlin could effectively argue that high and rising relative prices of good farm land would
reduce the parent’s demand for extra children. (Targeted bequests: Children are expected to
leave home and start their own households with no lingering responsibility to their parents.
Parents give to their children out of self-sacrifice, expecting no return. )
5. Explain why immigrants became increasingly more important to U.S. economic growth in the
years leading up to the Civil War. Identify the push and pull factors behind the massive
migration of human beings during this period of U.S. history.