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A Sample of Historical Bankruptcy Cases

Historical document beginning with "Your petitioner prays..."

Stylized petition for bankruptcy, circa 1920.

Over 34 million individuals and businesses have used the federal bankruptcy law since 1898.

Would you be surprised to find out that researchers and policymakers interested in studying the causes and consequences of bankruptcy can readily download detailed information about just a few hundred bankrupt households and virtually no bankrupt businesses?

Our project aims to stimulate interdisciplinary research on the causes and consequences of bankruptcy and on the history of credit markets more generally by:

With these data, we will be able to answer questions like the following:

  • To what extent did the St. Louis Fed's no bailout policy send solvent but illiquid borrowers into bankruptcy at the start of the Great Depression?
  • To what extent did the implementation of Medicare reduce bankruptcy rates among those eligible?
  • Has the geographic extent of credit markets changed much over the past century?
  • How strong is the evidence that there were local spillovers in bankruptcy filing?
  • To what extent did bankruptcy rates among men and women converge between 1940 and 2000?
  • To what extent did local trends in bankruptcy and indebtedness diverge from district court and state trends?
  • What are the origins of modern racial disparities in the use of the bankruptcy law?
  • How many filers for bankruptcy borrowed using the newest, often high-interest, credit instruments?
  • Does the slow resolution of bankruptcy cases stall economic recovery after a downturn?
  • How many filers for bankruptcy could have repaid their debts? How has so-called strategic filing changed over time?

Please see also related news article: Getting to the Core of Bankruptcy.


Interested in using the data? Interested in being a research assistant? Interested in supporting our research?

Please contact our Project Director, Prof. Mary Eschelbach Hansen:

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Historical Bankruptcy Project Overview


See more detail about the Historical Bankruptcy project.