Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

What Caused Westward Expansion In The United States?

Date:
February 29, 2008
Source:
University of Southern California
Summary:
Western Expansion during the nineteenth century helped determine geographic distribution and economic activity in the United States today. Using economic modeling to understand a historical event, researchers examined which specific market forces were the most important drivers of the migration. He found that without a decrease in transportation costs, only 30 percent of the US population would have been in the West in 1900, compared to an actual historical figure of 60 percent. The new study reveals that the price of land was less important than technological innovation.

Western Expansion during the nineteenth century was an important determinant of geographic distribution and economic activity in the United States today. However, while explanations abound for why the migration occurred-- from the low price of land to a pioneering spirit -- little empirical work has been done to determine which specific market forces were the most important drivers.

Applying quantitative analysis to historical explanations, a new study by economist Guillaume Vandenbroucke of the University of Southern California finds that the price of land was significantly less important to Westward Expansion than population growth and technological innovation leading to a decrease in transportation costs.

From 1800 to 1900, the United States tripled in size, from less than one million square miles to more than three million square miles. The geographic distribution of population also shifted, from about seven percent living in the West to roughly 60 percent. To examine what forces were most directly responsible for the magnitude of this movement and land accumulation, Vandenbroucke takes into account such factors as the amount of land available in the Eastern United States, wage and productivity growth in the East, and improvements in technologies and transportation infrastructures.

To account for the range of variables and possible factors, Vandenbroucke determined a model in which each factor was held at a constant level while the others shifted at historical rates.

"The most important forces are population growth and the decrease in transportation costs," Vandenbroucke said. "Population growth is mostly responsible for the investment in productive land -- without it less than half of the land accumulated in 1900 would have been accumulated."

Surprisingly, Vandenbroucke found that changes in productivity in the East had little effect on the Westward Expansion, relative to population growth and a decrease in transportation costs -- as he explains, rising wages and productivity makes it easier to move, but it also makes it less pressing to move.

Instead, he finds that population growth and technological innovation worked in concert as the main driving factors of Western Expansion. Specifically, the decrease in transportation costs induced Western migration and the redistribution of the American population -- without it only 30 percent of the population would have been in the West in 1900, compared to an actual historical figure of 60 percent. Land improvement technology, such as the use of barbed wire to cut down on the time needed to build a fence, had a small effect on the accumulation of land in the West.

Vandenbroucke's findings, appearing in the current issue of International Economic Review, have important implications for how to understand current population patterns and international immigration to the United States.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southern California. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Southern California. "What Caused Westward Expansion In The United States?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080228150402.htm>.
University of Southern California. (2008, February 29). What Caused Westward Expansion In The United States?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080228150402.htm
University of Southern California. "What Caused Westward Expansion In The United States?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080228150402.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

AP (Sep. 12, 2014) As the Star-Spangled Banner celebrates its bicentennial, Smithsonian curators are still uncovering fragments of the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. (Sept. 12) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins