Intergenerational Occupational Mobility and Marriage in South Africa (1750-1850)

Dieter von Fintel, Stellenbosch University
Auke Rijpma, Utrecht University
Jeanne Cilliers, Lund University

In the post-1940s, high rates of marriage between men and women with similar social class has perpetuated and increased economic inequalities. Coupled with wealth persistence within families across generations and closed networks, these factors partially explain why mobility is slow and inequality high. The usual narrative suggests that this pattern was strengthened by the expansion of mass education which narrowed labour market gaps between men and women, and reinforced marriage patterns within classes. But, recent evidence from the global North and South shows that mobility was low and within-class marriage prevalent even in pre-industrial times. This paper focuses exclusively on the pre-industrial period when most of the population was illiterate. We use South African genealogical records that link men to their fathers and fathers-in-law between 1750 and 1850. The HISCLASS occupation codes for each of the triplets was used to correlate status across families and their in-laws and across generations. The marriage market in this time was constrained by small, geographically isolated networks, and women married young before they could achieve social mobility independently of their husbands. As the colonial frontier expanded, there should have been greater prospects for opening up new networks, that would allow either (1) social mobility through movement to areas with new opportunities or (2) increase the scope for strategic within-class marriage that would decrease social mobility. We estimate relatively low marital correlations, but which strengthened over time. We document shifts from marriage within surname groups and language groups to a more open marriage market. The marital correlation was stronger at the frontier, supporting that opening up networks into new areas and ethnicities increased assortative mating. Our results show that factors usually associated with greater mobility (creation of new networks and the exploration of new economic frontiers) paradoxically creater the conditions for consolidating an elite.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 122. Exploring Pathways to Progress: Social Mobility, Occupational Transitions, and Cultural Influences in Historical Contexts