July 2008 - Research by University of Southern California economist Guillaume Vandenbroucke published in the International Economic Review has found that the price of land in nineteenth century America was a significantly less important factor in Westward Expansion than population growth and technological innovation leading to decreased transportation costs.
The researcher explains that the United States tripled in size between 1800 and 1900, from less than one million square miles to more than three million square miles, along with a shift in population distribution from about seven per cent to 60 per cent living in the West by 1900. The study analysed possible contributory factors such as the amount of available land, wage and productivity growth in the Eastern United States, and developments in technology and transport infrastructures.
To account for the range of variables a model was developed in which each factor was held at a constant level while others shifted at historical rates.
Guillaume Vandenbroucke said:
"The most important forces are population growth and the decrease in transportation costs. 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."
Guillaume Vandenbroucke found that changes in productivity in the East had surprisingly little effect on Westward Expansion: "rising wages and productivity makes it easier to move also makes it less pressing to move". Population growth and technological innovation worked in concert as the main driving factors. Decreased transportation costs induced migration and population redistribution. The researcher estimates that without this factor only half the actual figure of 60 per cent of the population would have been in the West by 1900. Land improvement technology, such as introduction of barbed wire as fence-building material, had a small effect on land accumulation in the West.
The study concludes that Westward Expansion in nineteenth century America is an important determinant of current economic activity and that these findings contribute to understanding of current population patterns and international immigration.