Fixing the Facts: Editing of the 1880 U.S. Census of Occupations with Implications for Long-Term Trends and the Sociology of Official Statistics

53 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2000 Last revised: 16 Sep 2021

See all articles by Susan B. Carter

Susan B. Carter

University of California, Riverside

Richard C. Sutch

University of California, Riverside and Berkeley; University of California, Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 1995

Abstract

We argue that the enumerators' occupational returns from the important census of 1880 were heavily edited prior to publication. The effect was to substantially reduce the number of individuals reported with an occupation. For youthful and older males and all women the editing was so substantial as to qualitatively affect the apparent trend in labor force participation for these groups over time. The stylized facts regarding labor market dynamics during the period of American industrialization and the historical stories constructed around them will now need to be reexamined. We contend that the editing was secretly authorized by Francis Amasa Walker, Superintendent of the Tenth Census of 1880 and one of the most prominent and decorated economists, statisticians, and public servants in America at this time. While other scholars have identified potential sources of bias in census figures, no one has heretofore suggested that the official statistics of the United States were covertly altered to present a picture different from information collected by census enumerators. If we are correct, the sociology of official nineteenth-century American statistics will require rethinking.

Suggested Citation

Carter, Susan B. and Sutch, Richard C., Fixing the Facts: Editing of the 1880 U.S. Census of Occupations with Implications for Long-Term Trends and the Sociology of Official Statistics (October 1995). NBER Working Paper No. h0074, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=190413

Susan B. Carter (Contact Author)

University of California, Riverside ( email )

CA
United States

Richard C. Sutch

University of California, Riverside and Berkeley ( email )

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University of California, Berkeley ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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