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

George Alter, Claudia Goldin and Elyce Rotella
The Journal of Economic History
Vol. 54, No. 4 (Dec., 1994), pp. 735-767
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2123609
Page Count: 33
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The Savings of Ordinary Americans: The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
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Abstract

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.

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