The Journal of Economic History


The Color Line: Racial Norms and Discrimination in Urban Labor Markets, 1910–1950

William A. Sundstroma1

a1 Associate Professor of Economics, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053.


In both northern and southern cities of the United States, African-Americans faced a web of social constraints on such activities as housing, shopping, and everyday interpersonal interactions. These constraints had implications for the labor market as well. In particular, norms against white subservience to blacks played an important role in determining the racial composition of occupations. Close attention to the operation of such social norms can add much explanatory power to conventional economic analyses of discrimination based on human capital and taste for discrimination.