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Selective Migration as a Basis for Upward Mobility? The Occupation of the Jewish Immigrants to the United States, ca. 1900


  • Joel Perlmann

    (The Jerome Levy Economics Institute)


The upward mobility of Jews who migrated to the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century has been explained as a function of premigrational cultural characteristics (such as a tradition of learning) or structural attributes (skills in certain industries and occupations that could be applied in the new country). In this working paper, Senior Scholar Joel Perlmann does not discount either of these explanations, but suggests that more attention should be paid to the rapid rate of entry of Jews into trade. The entry of Jews into trade upon coming to the United States could be explained several ways, for example, that prior experience and knowledge garnered while employed in a specific occupation (such as in the garment industry) provided a background for work in trade, or prior experience or knowledge about trade itself. In examining the relative importance to mobility of a different background in manufacturing versus a background of trade, Perlmann find that Jewish immigrants in manufacturing were overrepresented and those in trade underrepresented compared to the populations in the country of origin. Such selectivity will have an effect on the strength of the argument that upward mobility was a result of commercial experience. Perlmann, using immigration data that only recently has become available, examines this selectivity by comparing the occupations of Russian Jewish immigrants to the occupations of the base population from which they came, that is, the Jews in the Russian Pale of Settlement (the Pale). He uses Russian and U.S. data focusing on detailed data from the 1897 Russian Census and data on Jewish immigrant arrivals at the Port of New York from 1899 to 1900 and from 1907 to 1908 (now available at the individual immigrant level by country of origin, gender, age, occupation, etc.). Perlmann also considers whether information reported by immigrants was inaccurate due to misunderstandings or deception.

Suggested Citation

  • Joel Perlmann, 1998. "Selective Migration as a Basis for Upward Mobility? The Occupation of the Jewish Immigrants to the United States, ca. 1900," Macroeconomics 9805023, EconWPA, revised 24 Feb 1999.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:9805023
    Note: Type of Document - Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC ; to print on PostScript; pages: 22; figures: included

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    Cited by:

    1. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Platt Boustan & Katherine Eriksson, 2014. "A Nation of Immigrants: Assimilation and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 122(3), pages 467-506.

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    • E - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics

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