Human Capital of US the Deaf Population from 1850 to 1910

47 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2021 Last revised: 6 Oct 2021

See all articles by Zachary Bartsch

Zachary Bartsch

Ave Maria University

Emily Henderson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: August 13, 2021


We present the first modern economic and statistical analysis of historical deaf populations in the United States. We also provide the first 19th century annual deaf population estimates for the US. Unlike many subpopulations, deaf persons are uniquely characterized by a feature of their human capital: the absence of hearing. We provide evidence to address whether deaf people invested in adequate alternative human capital to compensate for deafness, or merely persisted throughout life with less human capital. We use probit and ordinary least squares models with historical census data and compare deaf and hearing populations by school attendance, literacy, employment status, and occupational scores. We find little evidence of compensating differentials in human capital investment among the deaf. We provide additional evidence from Martha’s Vineyard – where most people were bilingual in sign language and English, to exclude the language barrier and animus discrimination as the primary causes of lower economic achievement by the deaf. 

Keywords: human capital, deaf, economic history, IPUMS, census, 19th century

JEL Classification: N3, N31, I24, J15, J71

Suggested Citation

Bartsch, Zachary and Henderson, Emily, Human Capital of US the Deaf Population from 1850 to 1910 (August 13, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Zachary Bartsch (Contact Author)

Ave Maria University ( email )

5050 Ave Maria Boulevard
Ave Maria, FL 34142
United States
239-304-7929 (Phone)

Emily Henderson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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