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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2009

George Alter
Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.
Claudia Goldin
Professor of Economics at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, and Director of the Development of the American Economy Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Elyce Rotella
Associate Professor of Economics at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.


We explore the savings behavior of ordinary Americans through their accounts at the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, the oldest mutual savings bank in the United States. Our sample contains all 2,374 accounts opened in 1850. Savings accounts were generally brief affairs, but median balances mounted to about three-quarters of annual income in three years. Deposits and withdrawals were infrequent, but substantial. Only female servants, as a group, used their accounts for life-cycle savings, eventually amassing large nest eggs. Men often used them to hold funds before acquiring physical property. We estimate saving rates between 10 and 15 percent on active accounts.

Copyright © The Economic History Association 1994

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