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

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  • Lee J. Alston
  • Joseph P. Ferrie

Abstract

We explore the dynamics of the agricultural ladder (the progression from laborer to cropper to renter) in the U.S. before 1940 using individual-level data from a survey of farmers conducted in 1938 in Jefferson County, Arkansas. Using information on each individual's complete career history (their tenure status at each date, in some cases as far back as 1890), their location, and a variety of their personal and farm characteristics, we develop and test hypotheses to explain the time spent as a tenant, sharecropper, and wage laborer. The pessimistic view of commentators who saw sharecropping and tenancy as a trap has some merit, but individual characteristics played an important role in mobility. In all periods, some farmers moved up the agricultural ladder quite rapidly while others remained stuck on a rung. Ascending the ladder was an important route to upward mobility, particularly for blacks, before large-scale migration from rural to urban places.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11231.

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Date of creation: Mar 2005
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Publication status: published as Alston, Lee J. and Joseph P. Ferrie. "Time On The Ladder: Career Mobility In Agriculture, 1890-1938," Journal of Economic History, 2005, v65(4,Dec), 1058-1081.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11231

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  1. Alston, Lee J & Datta, Samar K & Nugent, Jeffrey B, 1984. "Tenancy Choice in a Competitive Framework with Transactions Costs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(6), pages 1121-33, December.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara, 2001. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1936, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  3. Louis Putterman & John E. Roemer & Joaquim Silvestre, . "Does Egalitarianism Have A Future?," Department of Economics 96-09, California Davis - Department of Economics.
  4. Higgs, Robert, 1974. "Patterns of Farm Rental in the Georgia Cotton Belt, 1880–1900," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 34(02), pages 468-482, June.
  5. Allen, Douglas & Lueck, Dean, 1992. "Contract Choice in Modern Agriculture: Cash Rent versus Cropshare," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(2), pages 397-426, October.
  6. Whatley, Warren C., 1983. "Labor for the Picking: the New Deal in the South," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(04), pages 905-929, December.
  7. Kauffman Kyle D., 1993. "Why Was the Mule Used in Southern Agriculture? Empirical Evidence of Principal-Agent Solutions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 336-351, July.
  8. Eswaran, Mukesh & Kotwal, Ashok, 1985. "A Theory of Contractual Structure in Agriculture," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(3), pages 352-67, June.
  9. White, Halbert, 1982. "Maximum Likelihood Estimation of Misspecified Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(1), pages 1-25, January.
  10. Alston, Lee J. & Higgs, Robert, 1982. "Contractual Mix in Southern Agriculture since the Civil War: Facts, Hypotheses, and Tests," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(02), pages 327-353, June.
  11. Robert Gibbons, 1996. "Incentives and Careers in Organizations," NBER Working Papers 5705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Allen, Douglas W & Lueck, Dean, 1999. "The Role of Risk in Contract Choice," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(3), pages 704-36, October.
  13. Douglas W. Allen & Dean Lueck, 1993. "Transaction Costs and the Design of Cropshare Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 24(1), pages 78-100, Spring.
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Cited by:
  1. Lee J. Alston & Bernardo Mueller, 2010. "Property Rights, Land Conflict and Tenancy in Brazil," NBER Working Papers 15771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Richard Hornbeck & Suresh Naidu, 2012. "When the Levee Breaks: Black Migration and Economic Development in the American South," NBER Working Papers 18296, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Jin, Songqing & Deininger, Klaus W. & Nagarajan, Hari K., 2006. "Equity and efficiency impacts of rural land rental restrictions: Evidence from India," 2006 Annual meeting, July 23-26, Long Beach, CA 21305, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
  4. Depew, Briggs & Fishback, Price V. & Rhode, Paul W., 2013. "New deal or no deal in the Cotton South: The effect of the AAA on the agricultural labor structure," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(4), pages 466-486.

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