Financial Inclusion Working Paper

The Homestead Act: A Major Asset-Building Policy in American History

This paper will address three questions: What is the significance of the Homestead Act? Who benefited from the Homestead Act? What can we learn from the Homestead Act? After an introduction to the Homestead legislation and how it was implemented, there will be an empirical analysis that considers the long-term impact of the Act. This will entail a calculation of the descendents each Homestead family might have had, based on a few reasonable demographic assumptions, followed by an estimation of how many people living today could have had ancestors who received property through this transfer of assets. Considering implications that follow from the Homestead Act, the paper will discuss principles for policy that provides genuine opportunity for citizens while contributing to the long term development of the nation’s resources, particularly looking toward future generations.

Subsequent publication: Williams Shanks, T. R. (2005). The Homestead Act: A major asset-building policy in American history. In M. Sherraden (Ed.), Inclusion in the American dream: Assets, poverty, and public policy (pp. 20-41). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Project: Inclusion in Asset Building: Research and Policy Symposium


Williams, T. (2000). The Homestead Act: A major asset-building policy in American history (CSD Working Paper No. 00-9). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.