Wages in California During the Gold Rush

50 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2000 Last revised: 13 Apr 2023

See all articles by Robert A. Margo

Robert A. Margo

Boston University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 1997


The California Gold Rush was an unexpected shock of tremendous size that prompted the costly re-allocation of labor to a frontier region. Using newly-collected archival data, this paper presents estimates of nominal and real wages in Gold Rush California. Consistent with a simple dynamic model of labor market adjustment, real wages rose sharply during the early years of the Rush (1848-1852), declined abruptly following massive in-migration 1850s. However, although the Rush itself was a transitory event, it left California wages permanently higher. Estimates based on census data suggest that the supply of labor into Gold Rush California was about half as elastic as the supply of labor into Alaska during the Pipeline Era.

Suggested Citation

Margo, Robert A., Wages in California During the Gold Rush (June 1997). NBER Working Paper No. h0101, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=225142

Robert A. Margo (Contact Author)

Boston University - Department of Economics ( email )

270 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-353-6819 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States