Time on the Ladder: Career Mobility in Agriculture, 1890-1938
NBER Working Paper No. 11231
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.
Published: Alston, Lee J. and Joseph P. Ferrie. "Time On The Ladder: Career Mobility In Agriculture, 1890-1938," Journal of Economic History, 2005, v65(4,Dec), 1058-1081.