Historical Social Stratification and Mobility in Costa Rica, 1840-2006

by Daniel Diaz Vidal (University of Tampa)

The full article from this post was published on The Economic History Review and is now available on Early View at this link

Banana Workers – available at <https://travelcostarica.nu/history>

The social mobility rate represents the degree to which the socioeconomic status of descendants varies relative to that of their progenitors. If the rate is very low then the social pyramid remains unchanged over many generations. Conversely, if the rate of social mobility is very high, then family, cultural, ethnic, and historical backgrounds are not useful in explaining the current social status of an individual. In essence, history determines present outcomes when there are lower rates of social mobility. Interest in social mobility research has grown since the Great Recession because of its relationship with socioeconomic inequality, or political upheaval.

This renewed interest in the study of social mobility has generated new approaches to this subject.  Recent social mobility studies which use surnames show that underlying social mobility rates in all cases studied are both very low and very similar across countries and time periods.[1] This research uses an enhanced surname methodology and previously unused historical data to study  social mobility in a new Spanish speaking, Central American economy. Costa Rica is particularly interesting as it has exhibited relatively egalitarian distributions of income since colonial times. This is significantly different to the previous Latin American economy, Chile, which had been the focus of a surname study of social mobility similar to this one. In order to study historical social mobility in Costa Rica over the past century and a half, one cannot use traditional father-son linkages since constructing such a dataset would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.  Traditional methods require panel datasets, such as the United States National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), or rich population registries like those found in Sweden and  Iceland. This limits the historical and geographical contexts in which social mobility can be studied. Surnames facilitate research  by permitting the clustering of people to identify groups of sons who collectively originated from a group of fathers, without needing to follow the branches of each specific family tree.

One of the methodologies used in this research involves overrepresentation of surname groups within certain elite professions in the 2006 electoral census. The  central idea is to see how frequent a surname is within the census and then use that to predict how many we should find in a sample of elite professionals. If a certain surname group represents 1 per cent of the population but 5 per cent of the individuals in high skilled professions, then they are overrepresented, and of higher status. In order to study how long the rich stay rich in Costa Rica, the author compiled a dataset of historically advantaged groups before the beginning of the elite profession dataset, in order to avoid selection bias.  The groups are: top coffee growers from 1911, coffee exporters in 1934, teachers and professors between 1923-1933, Jamaican banana growers from 1908, and ethnically- mixed plantation owners.  Figure 1 shows how these elite groups were still overrepresented at the end of the twentieth century and that they will require an average of six to seven generations to regress to the mean. These results are comparable to those produced by Clark, for a completely different set of socioeconomic and historical backgrounds.[2]  Of particular interest is the comparison of the results with Chile, since the two countries had different colonial experiences and varying degrees of inequality throughout their histories.

Figure 1. Elite Group Representation in Costa Rica – Note: The vertical black line determines where the data end and the projections begin.
Sources: Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, Padron Nacional Electoral; Costa Rica, Direccion General de Estadística y Censos, Lista de cultivadores de banano, anuario 1907; Costa Rica, Instituto de Defensa del Café de Costa Rica, Revista del Instituto de Defensa del Café de Costa Rica. See article for further details.

This research shows that regression to the socioeconomic mean in Costa Rica occurred at a slower pace than that predicted by the previous literature. This implies that the equality-driven policy maker should be more concerned with economic growth, which should increase the average income of every strata, at least under a Kaldor compensation criterion[3], and with compressing the distance between social strata, rather than concerning itself with social mobility. This study has shown how historical groups take fewer generations to regress to the mean in comparison to the Chilean case studied in Clark.[4] This is attributed to the fact that the historical groups were not that far apart to begin with.

To contact the author: DDIAZVIDAL@ut.edu

[1]           G. Clark, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015; G. Clark and N. Cummins, ‘Surnames and Social Mobility in England, 1170-2012’, Human Nature, 25 (2014), pp. 517-537.

[2]           Clark, The Son also rises.

[3]           This posits that an activity moves the economy closer to Pareto optimality if the maximum amount the gainers are prepared to pay to the losers to agree to the change is greater than the minimum amount losers are prepared to accept

[4]            Ibid.

Social Mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Anglican Marriage Registers in Uganda (1895-2011)

Felix Meier zu Selhausen (University of Sussex)
Marco H. D. Van Leeuwen (Utrecht University)
Jacob L. Weisdorf (University of Southern Denmark, CAGE, CEPR)

The arrival of Christian missionaries and the receptivity of African societies to formal education prompted a genuine schooling revolution during the colonial era. The bulk of primary education in the British colonies was provided by mission schools (Frankema 2012), and their historical distribution had a long-run effect on African development (e.g. Nunn 2010). To those with access, formal education under colonial rule provided new venues of political influence and opportunities for social mobility. However, did mission schooling benefit a broad layer of the African population, or did it merely strengthen the power of pre-colonial elites? This paper addresses this question by investigating social mobility of Christian converts in colonial Uganda.

The existing literature has conveyed two opposing arguments, based mainly on qualitative sources. On the one hand, scholars have stressed that British colonial officials discouraged post-primary education of the general African population, fearing that such education would nurture anti-colonial sentiments. As a result, the benefits of mission schooling are purported to have been restricted to sons of traditional chiefs and newly empowered elites, who aligned themselves with the British administration and took up the lion’s share of urban skilled occupations (Hanson 2003, Reid 2017). Such dynamics perpetuated the power of chiefs into the post-colonial era and contributed to a legacy of ‘decentralized despotism’ (Mamdani 1996). Despite such dynamics, however, other studies have argued that mission schools became ‘colonial Africa’s chief generator of social mobility and stratification’, acting as a stepping stone to urban middle-class careers for a new generation of Africans (Iliffe 2007, p. 229).

This article explores intergenerational social mobility and colonial elite formation using the occupational titles of African grooms and their fathers who married in the prestigious Anglican Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala or in several rural parishes in Western Uganda between 1895 and 2011. The fact that sampled grooms celebrated an Anglican church marriage meant they were born to parents who, by their choice of religion and compliance with the by-laws of the Anglican Church, had positioned their offspring in a social network that afforded them a wide range of educational and occupational opportunities (Peterson 2016). This unique sample allows us to explore the impact of missionary schooling on the social mobility of converts between generations and uncover implications for colonial elite formation.

Social mobility in Kampala

To measure social mobility, we have grouped each occupation of 14,167 sampled Anglican father-son pairs into a hierarchical scheme of 6 social classes based on skill levels using HISCLASS (Van Leeuwen and Maas 2011). As shown in Figure 1, we find that the occupational mobility of sampled grooms expanded dramatically during the colonial era. By the onset of British rule (1890-99), Buganda society was comparatively immobile with three out of four sons remaining in the social class of their fathers. But by the 1910s, this had reversed to 3 in 4 sons moving to a different class. Careers in the colonial administration (chiefs, clerks) and the Anglican mission (teachers, priests) functioned as key steps on the ladder to upward mobility.

Figure 1: Social mobility among Anglican grooms in Kampala, 1895-2011


What was the social background of those reaching the highest occupational classes? Table 1 zooms in on grooms’ social-class destination relative to their social origin during the colonial era. It shows that the African converts, benefiting from new occupational opportunities opening-up during the colonial period, were able to take large steps up the social ladder regardless of their social origin. A remarkable 45% of sons from farming family backgrounds (class IV) moved into white-collar work, which indicates that the colonial labour market was generally surprisingly conducive to social mobility among Anglican converts.

Table 1: Outflow mobility rates in Kampala, 1895-1962


Colonial elite formation: Decentralized despotism?

Did chiefs and their sons benefit disproportionally from occupational diversification under colonialism? Under indirect British rule, many traditional Baganda chiefs converted to Anglicanism and became colonial officials, employed to extract taxes and profits from cash-cropping farmers. This put them in a supreme position for consolidating their pre-colonial societal power. Despite such advantages, our microdata suggests that the privileged position of pre-colonial elites was not sustained over the colonial period Figure 2 shows the probabilities of sons of chiefs (class I) versus farmers and lower-class labourers (class IV-VI) of entering an elite position (class I). At the beginning of the colonial era, sons of chiefs were significantly more likely to reach the top of the social ladder. However, a remarkably fluid colonial labour market, based on meritocratic principles, gradually eroded their economic and political advantages. Towards the end of the colonial era, traditional claims to status no longer conferred automatic advantages upon the sons of chiefs, who lost their high social-status monopoly to a new Christian-educated and commercially orientated class of Ugandans of farming backgrounds (Hanson 2003).

Figure 2: Conditional probability of sons of chiefs and farmers in class I, Kampala

Figure 2

To access the abstract: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ehr.12616/abstract

To contact the first author:
Twitter: @FelixMzS1


Frankema, E. (2012). ‘The origins of formal education in sub-Saharan Africa: was British rule more benign?’ European Review of Economic History 16(4): 335-55.

Hanson, E. (2003). Landed Obligation: The Practice of Power in Buganda. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mamdani, M. (1996). Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Meier zu Selhausen, F., van Leeuwen, Marco H.D. and Weisdorf, J. (2018). ‘Social mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Anglican marriage registers in Uganda, 1895-2011. Economic History Review, forthcoming.

Nunn, N. (2010). Religious Conversion in Coloinal Africa. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings 100 (2) :147-52.

Peterson, D. (2016). ‘The Politics of Transcendence in Colonial Uganda’. Past and Present 230(1): 197-225.

Reid, R. J. (2017). A History of Modern Uganda. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Leeuwen, M.H.D. and Maas, I. (2011). HISCLASS – A Historical International Social Class Scheme. Leuven: Leuven University Press.