The Savings of Ordinary Americans: The Philidelphia Saving Fund Society in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

39 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2004 Last revised: 11 Apr 2008

See all articles by George Alter

George Alter

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of History

Claudia Goldin

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

Elyce Rotella

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

Date Written: July 1992

Abstract

We explore the savings behavior and saving rates of ordinary Americans through their accounts at the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society. the oldest mutual savings bank in the United States founded in 1816 to encourage thrift among the working poor. Our sample contains the 2.374 accounts opened in 1850. of which one-quarter were linked to the 1850 census manuscripts. Savings accounts were generally brief affairs; only 30 percent lasted more than 5 years. But median balances mounted to about three-quarters of annual income in about three to four years. Deposits and withdrawals were infrequent. but substantial. The median deposit was about 1 to 2 months of gross income whereas the median withdrawal represented about 2 to 3 months but occurred far less often. Account holders. then. did not generally use their accounts for the short-run fluctuations in income we suspect they experienced. Only female servants. as a group. used their accounts for life-cycle savings eventually amassing large nest eggs through steady but slow accumulation. Men often used their accounts to hold funds on route to acquiring physical property. Estimated saving rates range from a low of 12 percent to a more sensible one of 21 percent among only active accounts.

Suggested Citation

Alter, George and Goldin, Claudia and Rotella, Elyce Jean, The Savings of Ordinary Americans: The Philidelphia Saving Fund Society in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (July 1992). NBER Working Paper No. w4126. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=226787

George Alter (Contact Author)

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of History ( email )

Bloomington, IN
United States
812-855-5631 (Phone)
812-855-2634 (Fax)

Claudia Goldin

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-3934 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Elyce Jean Rotella

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Economics ( email )

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Bloomington, IN 47405-6620
United States
(812) 855-7858 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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