IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/bla/ajecsc/v72y2013i5p1075-1105.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Degraded Work, Declining Community, Rising Inequality, and the Transformation of the Protestant Ethic in America: 1870–1930

Author

Listed:
  • Jon D. Wisman
  • Matthew E. Davis

Abstract

The Protestant ethic has been depicted as declining in America between 1870 and 1930, due to new affordable consumer durables and less rewarding industrial work. This article re-examines this period and finds that the Protestant ethic did not so much decline as become transformed. The work ethic component remained in force, while abstemious consumer behavior weakened. This transformation is traced to three dynamic social forces of the period: Degradation in the quality of work, the decline of community, and a dramatic increase in inequality. Industrialization degraded work as craft industries and independent farming waned, thereby making it more difficult for others to know the quality and intensity of ones work. However, the amount one consumed could serve as a proxy for hard work. Consequently, social respect and social standing came increasingly to be sought through consumption. Industrialization-driven urbanization also made it more difficult to find social certification not only in work but also in community. Growing inequality over this period prompted individuals to save less and become more indebted so as to be able to consume at the higher level necessary for maintaining their relative social standing. The durable goods revolution, although technologically driven, was also fueled by the degradation of labor, the decline of community, and rising inequality.
(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

Suggested Citation

  • Jon D. Wisman & Matthew E. Davis, 2013. "Degraded Work, Declining Community, Rising Inequality, and the Transformation of the Protestant Ethic in America: 1870–1930," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 72(5), pages 1075-1105, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ajecsc:v:72:y:2013:i:5:p:1075-1105
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/ajes.12038
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Christopher Brown, 2008. "Inequality, Consumer Credit and the Saving Puzzle," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 12877.
    2. Leo Grebler & David M. Blank & Louis Winnick, 1956. "Appendix I: The Capital-Output Ratio in Residential Real Estate," NBER Chapters,in: Capital Formation in Residential Real Estate: Trends and Prospects, pages 406-425 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Hatton, Timothy J. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1991. "Wage gaps between farm and city: Michigan in the 1890s," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 28(4), pages 381-408, October.
    4. Robert H. Frank, 2005. "Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 137-141, May.
    5. Jon Wisman, 2011. "Inequality, Social Respectability, Political Power, and Environmental Devastation," Journal of Economic Issues, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(4), pages 877-900.
    6. Alan Shipman, 2004. "Lauding the Leisure Class: Symbolic Content and Conspicuous Consumption," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 62(3), pages 277-289.
    7. Samuel Bowles & Yongjin Park, 2005. "Emulation, Inequality, and Work Hours: Was Thorsten Veblen Right?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(507), pages 397-412, November.
    8. Robert Frank, 2000. "Does Growing Inequality Harm the Middle Class?," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 253-264, Summer.
    9. James Livingston, 2009. "Their Great Depression and Ours," Challenge, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 52(3), pages 34-51.
    10. Jon D. Wisman, 2008. "Household Saving, Class Identitiy, and Conspicuous Consumption," Working Papers 2008-19, American University, Department of Economics.
    11. White, Eugene N, 1990. "The Stock Market Boom and Crash of 1929 Revisited," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 67-83, Spring.
    12. repec:mes:jeciss:v:43:y:2009:i:1:p:89-114 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Leo Grebler & David M. Blank & Louis Winnick, 1956. "Capital Formation in Residential Real Estate: Trends and Prospects," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number greb56-1.
    14. Jon Wisman, 2003. "The Scope and Promising Future of Social Economics," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 61(4), pages 425-445.
    15. Saez, Emmanuel, 2009. "Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Update with 2007 estimates)," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt8dp1f91x, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    16. Mayhew, Anne, 1972. "A Reappraisal of the Causes of Farm Protest in the United States, 1870–1900," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(02), pages 464-475, June.
    17. Clarence D. Long, 1960. "Wages and Earnings in the United States, 1860-1890," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number long60-1.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Jon D. Wisman, 2016. "Conspicuous Consumption and Darwin's Critical Sexual Selection Dynamic That Thorstein Veblen Missed," Working Papers 2016-03, American University, Department of Economics.
    2. Jon D. Wisman, 2013. "Labor Busted, Rising Inequality and the Financial Crisis of 1929: An Unlearned Lesson," Working Papers 2013-07, American University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics
    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:ajecsc:v:72:y:2013:i:5:p:1075-1105. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0002-9246 .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.