Which Immigration Occupational Skills?: Explanations of Jewish Economic Mobility in the United States and New Evidence, 1910-1920
Levy Economics Institute WP Paper #181
Posted: 21 Jul 1997
Date Written: December 1996
This working paper directs to an historical puzzle, the rapid upward mobility of the east-European Jews who came to the United States between 1880 and 1920. Theoretically important issues are inherent in the explanations for Jewish upward mobility, and in any case, this particular historical puzzle has received so much attention in discussions of ethnicity and mobility that any refinement of the arguments about Jewish upward mobility cannot help but bear on the way we think about ethnicity and mobility generally. And more specifically, the case of the Jews has been prominent in American debates about structure and culture among the immigrants. The story line is familiar, indeed well-worn: the east-European Jews came to the United States at the same time as many other European immigrant groups (between 1880 and 1920). Yet the east-European Jewish immigrants and their offspring reached middle class status in fewer decades, or in fewer generations, than did other immigrant groups and their offspring. Explaining this phenomenon of rapid east-European Jewish upward mobility has been a staple product of American social science for at least two generations.Now I intend to focus on one seemingly modest issue, the extent to which the immigrant Jews were concentrated in manufacturing occupations -- especially in skilled trades such as tailoring, shoemaking or carpentry -- and the extent to which, by contrast, the immigrant Jews were concentrated in petty trade, and were moving into petty trade. This modest formulation will not resolve all aspects of our puzzle, but it nonetheless does go to the heart of current social science interpretations of American Jewish social mobility.
JEL Classification: N31, N33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation