The Journal of Economic History



ARTICLES

Time on the Ladder: Career Mobility in Agriculture, 1890–1938


LEE J. ALSTON a1 and JOSEPH P. FERRIE a2
a1 Professor of Economics and Director, Environment and Behavior Program, Institute of Behavioral Sciences, Campus Box 4832, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309; and Research Associate, NBER. E-mail: lee.alston@colorado.edu.
a2 Gerald F. and Marjorie G. Fitzgerald Junior Professor of Economic History, Department of Economics, Northwestern University, 2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208-2600; and Research Associate, NBER. E-mail: ferrie@northwestern.edu.

Abstract

We explore the dynamics of the agricultural ladder for black farmers in the U.S. South using individual-level data from a retrospective survey conducted in 1938 in Jefferson County, Arkansas. We develop and test hypotheses to explain the time spent as a tenant, sharecropper, and wage laborer. The most striking result of our analysis is the importance of individual characteristics in career mobility. In all periods—pre–World War I; the war years, and subsequent boom; the 1920s; and the Great Depression years—some farmers moved up the agricultural ladder quite rapidly while others remained stuck on a rung.

Movement from rung to rung has been predominantly in the direction of descent rather than ascent. … [There is] an increasing tendency for the rungs of the ladder to become bars—forcing imprisonment in a fixed social status from which it is increasingly difficult to escape.National Resources Committee 1



Footnotes

1 National Resources Committee, “Report.”



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