Molly Ball

  • Fellowship year:2013-2014
  • University: University of California- Los Angeles
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Latin American
  • Dissertation Title: Inequality in São Paulo's Old Republic: A Wage Perspective 1891-1930
  • Urbanization often follows on the heels of industrialization, and in Latin America, stark inequality has accompanied this growth. However, we know little about how and when this inequality became entrenched in the region. This dissertation looks at lived workers' experiences and inequality in the city of São Paulo, Brazil during the city's rapid Old Republic (1891-1930) growth. São Paulo is the ideal environment to study inequality. The city was one of the first in the region to experience rapid expansion, growing from 65,000 inhabitants in 1890 to over one million by 1933, and was also one of the most diverse, as immigrants and migrants flocked to the city. As the first comprehensive and systematic study of wage inequality in such an important city, my project contributes to the historiographical literature on labor, gender and development history in Latin America. Furthermore, the methodology of using firm-level data to measure inequality when official statistics are unreliable can be applied across regions and time periods.

    My dissertation directly examines the national, racial and gender discrimination workers faced in São Paulo's formal labor market using a variety of archival and official sources. It finds evidence that Afro-Brazilian, Portuguese and women workers encountered significant labor market discrimination. To analyze this discrimination, the dissertation addresses three related topics. It provides the first analysis of incoming immigrant groups' relative skill levels for the city. Immigrant registries suggest employers may have hired Germans into skilled positions and Portuguese into unskilled positions based on the expectation that they would be more or less skilled, respectively. Second, using firm-level employment data, the dissertation provides a much-needed wage series and shows real wages steadily declined and that skilled and unskilled wages diverged slightly in the 1920's. Finally, using firm-level data and a unique set of employee interviews, the dissertation shows that despite heavy criticism and labor market discrimination, some working- and middle-class wives and mothers chose to remain in the labor market. The dissertation findings, suggest gender inequality was prominent during the Old Republic, but racial inequality actually expanded in the Vargas-era and Second Republic.