Cover: Poverty and Progress in PAPERBACK

Poverty and Progress

Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City

Product Details

PAPERBACK

$37.00 • £32.95 • €33.95

ISBN 9780674695016

Publication Date: 10/15/1980

Short

288 pages

16 tables

World

Add to Cart

Media Requests:

Related Subjects

Embedded in the consciousness of Americans throughout much of the country’s history has been the American Dream: that every citizen, no matter how humble his beginnings, is free to climb to the top of the social and economic ladder. Poverty and Progress assesses the claims of the American Dream against the actual structure of economic and social opportunities in a typical nineteenth century industrial community—Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Here is local history. With the aid of newspapers, census reports, and local tax, school, and savings bank records Stephan Thernstrom constructs a detailed and vivid portrait of working class life in Newburyport from 1850 to 1880, the critical years in which this old New England town was transformed into a booming industrial city. To determine how many self-made men there really were in the community, he traces the career patterns of hundreds of obscure laborers and their sons over this thirty year period, exploring in depth the differing mobility patterns of native-born and Irish immigrant workmen. Out of this analysis emerges the conclusion that opportunities for occupational mobility were distinctly limited. Common laborers and their sons were rarely able to attain middle class status, although many rose from unskilled to semiskilled or skilled occupations.

But another kind of mobility was widespread. Men who remained in lowly laboring jobs were often strikingly successful in accumulating savings and purchasing homes and a plot of land. As a result, the working class was more easily integrated into the community; a new basis for social stability was produced which offset the disruptive influences that accompanied the first shock of urbanization and industrialization.

Since Newburyport underwent changes common to other American cities, Thernstrom argues, his findings help to illuminate the social history of nineteenth century America and provide a new point of departure for gauging mobility trends in our society today. Correlating the Newburyport evidence with comparable studies of twentieth century cities, he refutes the popular belief that it is now more difficult to rise from the bottom of the social ladder than it was in the idyllic past. The “blocked mobility” theory was proposed by Lloyd Warner in his famous “Yankee City” studies of Newburyport; Thernstrom provides a thorough critique of the “Yankee City” volumes and of the ahistorical style of social research which they embody.

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Composite photograph showing (top) entrance to the Prudential Center in Boston and (bottom) an internal construction partition/wall printed with the words 'Opening Day 2023' and other decorative text

A New Chapter for Harvard Book Store

Starting in the summer of 2023, for the first time in almost thirty years, Harvard Book Store will have two locations: the flagship store in Harvard Square, and a large new store in the Prudential Center in Boston. For University Press Week we wanted to show some bookseller love, so we reached out to Rachel Cass, General Manager of the Harvard Book Store, to see what’s planned for their exciting new location