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

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  • ALSTON, LEE J.
  • FERRIE, JOSEPH P.

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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Suggested Citation

  • Alston, Lee J. & Ferrie, Joseph P., 2005. "Time on the Ladder: Career Mobility in Agriculture, 1890 1938," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(04), pages 1058-1081, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:65:y:2005:i:04:p:1058-1081_00
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    Cited by:

    1. Roses, Joan R., 2015. "Spanish land reform in the 1930s: economic necessity or political opportunism?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 64498, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. repec:spr:demogr:v:54:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s13524-017-0581-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Richard Hornbeck & Suresh Naidu, 2014. "When the Levee Breaks: Black Migration and Economic Development in the American South," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(3), pages 963-990, March.
    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.
    5. Lee Alston & Bernardo Mueller, 2016. "Economic Backwardness and Catching Up: Brazilian Agriculture, 1964–2014," NBER Working Papers 21988, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. 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).
    7. Lee J. Alston & Bernardo Mueller, 2010. "Property Rights, Land Conflict and Tenancy in Brazil," NBER Working Papers 15771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Salisbury, Laura, 2014. "Selective migration, wages, and occupational mobility in nineteenth century America," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 40-63.
    9. repec:eee:exehis:v:65:y:2017:i:c:p:94-105 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:spr:demogr:v:54:y:2017:i:5:d:10.1007_s13524-017-0607-x is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N5 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries
    • J6 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers

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