Mining Microdata:

economic opportunity and spatial mobility
in Britain, Canada and The United States, 1850-1911

Supported by

Outputs and outcomes


The deliverables associated with this project include

• Six public-use datasets of panels of men linked from early-childhood to early adulthood over thirty year intervals (1850/1 — 1880/1 and 1880/1 — 1910/1). These datasets will be reduced via the North Atlantic Population Project (http:/www. nappdata. org) and the UK Data Archive.

• Tables mapping occupational descriptions into a range of social class measures. These tables will be available for use by other researchers to examine our methods, and apply them to other data collections to more rapidly construct similar social class measures in other data sources.

• A study of social mobility in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States over two generations (1850/1 — 1880/1 and 1880/1 — 1910/1) contributing to an important debate about the comparative social structure of these countries. We plan to write two manuscripts comparing mobility across the three countries; the first describing social and economic mobility (as measured by occupational measures of social class), and a second describing geographic mobility. We will submit these manuscripts to top-ranked generalist journals such as American Sociological Review, Journal of Economic History, American Historical Review, Economic History Review or Past and Present.


The project will make an important contribution to a long-running academic debate about social structure in North America and Great Britain. Broadly, the questions that have emerged in this debate are (1) did men in Canada and the United States have more opportunity to improve their social standing than men in Great Britain, and how large were the differences between countries? (2) did social mobility itself change over time in the three countries?

Our contribution to these debates will be to measure social mobility in the same way over two generations in three countries. Many previous contributions to this debate have relied on data collected in different ways in different countries. Our inclusion of Canada into the historical debate on social mobility will also be important. As a country that had important similarities with both Great Britain and the United States, it holds promise for teasing out why social mobility differed in each country. We do not expect our analyses to resolve these debates, which are nearly two centuries old. But we do expect they will make an important contribution.

The project will create datasets of men observed at two points in their life created in a similar way in all three countries, over six decades of substantial historical change. Other scholars will be able to use them to study, for example, change across generations in marital behaviour or fertility.