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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Made in America? Immigrant Occupational Mobility in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

  • Author(s): Catron, Peter
  • et al.

Assimilation research largely assumes that Southern and Eastern European immigrants achieved assimilation due to job ladders within manufacturing firms in the first half of the twentieth century. But this literature has never tested these claims and often acknowledges that little is known about whether Italians and Slavs experienced upward mobility. Did manufacturing allow for the upward advancement among European-origin groups? Using unique datasets containing employment histories in three manufacturing companies – A.M. Byers Company, Pullman-Standard Manufacturing, and Ford Motor Company - between 1900 and 1950, this article is the first to analyze occupational mobility within factories among European-origin groups. Results suggest that organizational structures within firms through the formation of internal labor markets did little to counter or prevent other forces that kept migrants from achieving upward mobility.  Migrants ended their careers within firms where they began – positions at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy – which runs contrary to assimilation research.

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