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Identity, Parochial Institutions, and Occupational Choice: Linking the Past to the Present in the American Midwest


  • Kaivan Munshi
  • Nicholas Wilson


This paper documents the presence of non-economic career motivations in the U.S. labor market, explores reasons why such motivations could arise, and provides an explanation for why they might have persisted across many generations. The analysis links ethnic (migrant) labor market networks in the American Midwest when it was first being settled, the local identity or attachment to place that emerged endogenously to maintain the integrity of these networks, and occupational choice today. While fractionalization may adversely affect the performance of secular institutions, ethnic competition in the labor market could at the same time have strengthened within-group loyalty and parochial institutions. These values and their complementary institutions, notably the church, could have mutually reinforced each other over many overlapping generations, long after the networks themselves had ceased to be salient. Counties with greater ethnic fractionalization in 1860 are indeed associated with steadily increasing participation in select religious denominations historically dominated by the migrants all the way through the twentieth century. Complementing this result, individuals born in high fractionalization counties are significantly less likely to select into geographically mobile professional occupations and, hence, to migrate out of their county of birth, despite the fact that these counties are indistinguishable from low fractionalization counties in terms of local public good provision and economic activity today.

Suggested Citation

  • Kaivan Munshi & Nicholas Wilson, 2008. "Identity, Parochial Institutions, and Occupational Choice: Linking the Past to the Present in the American Midwest," NBER Working Papers 13717, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13717
    Note: CH DAE LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Bisin, Alberto & Patacchini, Eleonora & Verdier, Thierry & Zenou, Yves, 2016. "Bend it like Beckham: Ethnic identity and integration," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 146-164.
    2. Furtado Delia & Theodoropoulos Nikolaos, 2010. "Why Does Intermarriage Increase Immigrant Employment? The Role of Networks," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(1), pages 1-33, November.
    3. Jeanne Lafortune & José Tessada, 2012. "Smooth(er) Landing? The Dynamic Role of Networks in the Location and Occupational Choice of Immigrants," Working Papers ClioLab 14, EH Clio Lab. Instituto de Economía. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
    4. Delia Furtado & Nikolaos Theodoropoulos, 2009. "Intermarriage and Immigrant Employment: The Role of Networks," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0906, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
    5. Samuel Bowles & Glenn C. Loury & Rajiv Sethi, 2014. "Group Inequality," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 12(1), pages 129-152, February.
    6. Prummer, Anja & Siedlarek, Jan-Peter, 2014. "Institutions And The Preservation Of Cultural Traits," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 470, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    7. Alberto Bisin & Thierry Verdier, 2010. "The Economics of Cultural Transmission and Socialization," NBER Working Papers 16512, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Nathan Nunn, 2009. "The Importance of History for Economic Development," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 65-92, May.
    9. Prummer, Anja & Siedlarek, Jan-Peter, 2017. "Community leaders and the preservation of cultural traits," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 168(C), pages 143-176.
    10. Hoff, Karla & Pandey, Priyanka, 2014. "Making up people—The effect of identity on performance in a modernizing society," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 118-131.
    11. Zhan, Crystal, 2015. "Money v.s. prestige: Cultural attitudes and occupational choices," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 44-56.
    12. José-Alberto Guerra & Myra Mohnen, 2017. "Multinomial choice with social interactions: occupations in Victorian London," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 015667, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

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