What the Jews Brought: East-European Jewish Immigration to the United States, C. 1900

Posted: 24 Nov 2009

See all articles by Joel Perlmann

Joel Perlmann

Bard College - The Levy Economics Institute

Date Written: 2000


East-European Jews arrived in the United States along with other groups between 1880 and 1920, yetit is well known that they and their offspring reached middle-class status more quickly than other immigrant groups.In this paper, explanations for this success are examined.The prevalent theories stress the fit between the immigrants' occupational skills and the U.S. economy, but these theories do not adequately explain the Jewish tendency to concentrate in commerce, and especially petty trade, which was essential for Jewish upward mobility. Both structural (relating to skills) and cultural explanations (relating to values) have been offered. Immigration, census, and business data are examined and it is concluded that an ethnically distinctive pattern of entering commerce existed among Jewish immigrants. In order to account for this pattern, at least one of these arguments is needed: Jews exploited experience in trade as well as in industrial work, or that in addition to experience, Jews also had preference for trade.(TNM)

Keywords: Jewish immigrants, Cultural background, Cultural values, History, Immigrants, Self-employment, Career choices, Clothing industry, Cross-cultural research

Suggested Citation

Perlmann, Joel, What the Jews Brought: East-European Jewish Immigration to the United States, C. 1900 (2000). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1510019

Joel Perlmann (Contact Author)

Bard College - The Levy Economics Institute ( email )

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