Department of Economics
University of Delaware
Working Paper #2003-04
BABES IN BONDAGE—PARENTAL SELLING OF CHILDREN TO FINANCE FAMILY MIGRATION: THE CASE OF GERMAN MIGRATION TO NORTH AMERICA, 1720-1820
The existence and extent of intra-family debt shifting via selling children into bondage among German immigrant families to North America is documented using quantitative ship manifest and servant auction data. This evidence is at odds with the standard description presented in the literature based on literary sources. Market competition created the opening and colonial welfare laws drove German immigrant parents into selling their children into bondage to finance their own (the parents’) migration, but only for children within a particular and narrow age range. German immigrant parents did not callously treat their children as investment goods.