Gratuitous charts #1: social mobility in Dakar, c.1910

Part of my thesis is about the role of African cities in structural change in the colonial period, taking the Senegalese city of Dakar as an example. In particular, I look at the occupational attainment of rural-urban migrants compared to people born in Dakar—i.e., what kind of jobs do people get, conditioned on their human capital, their age, their sex and so on. Though this isn’t really the focus of the chapter, the dataset I constructed allows me to look in some detail at social mobility. The data comes from the état civil of Dakar—that is, the civil registration of births, deaths and marriages. I focus mainly on deaths, which frequently records the occupations of men and their fathers. From this data, I can make the following graph, which divides both ‘fathers’ and ‘sons’ into six occupational categories and then shows the flows between each category from generation to generation:

Occupational categories (I) Agriculture (II) Unskilled labour (III) Semi-skilled manual labour (IV) Semi-skilled non-manual labour (V) Skilled labour, non-manual, (VI) Military

It shows a reasonably strong tendency for sons to follow their fathers’ occupational categories: look, for example, at category III, which is semi-skilled manual labour (occupations like carpentry, bricklaying, and so on). There is a strong flow from fathers in this category to sons in this category, indicating that few men born to masons or carpenters were likely to slip ‘downwards’ into manual labour or agriculture, or to move ‘upwards’ to non-manual professions.

The analysis is obviously at an early stage, but once it’s more developed, it will be interesting to compare to social mobility estimates for other parts of Africa. Felix Meier zu Selhausen has been working on this question for some time using marriage registers from Uganda (see for example this paper), and a comparison between social mobility among Ugandan Christians and (largely) Muslims in 20th century Dakar would be interesting.

Published by Tom Westland

PhD student in economic history at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

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