The authors are Professor of Economics and Ph.D. Candidate in Economics, respectively, at American University, Washington, D.C. Helpful comments from John Willoughby and an anonymous reviewer are gratefully acknowledged.
Degraded Work, Declining Community, Rising Inequality, and the Transformation of the Protestant Ethic in America: 1870–1930
Article first published online: 18 OCT 2013
© 2013 American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc.
American Journal of Economics and Sociology
Volume 72, Issue 5, pages 1075–1105, November 2013
How to Cite
Wisman, J. D. and Davis, M. E. (2013), Degraded Work, Declining Community, Rising Inequality, and the Transformation of the Protestant Ethic in America: 1870–1930. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 72: 1075–1105. doi: 10.1111/ajes.12038
- Issue published online: 18 OCT 2013
- Article first published online: 18 OCT 2013
The Protestant ethic has been depicted as declining in America between 1870 and 1930, due to new consumer durables and less rewarding work. This study finds that the Protestant ethic did not so much decline as become transformed. The work ethic remained in force, while frugality weakened. This transformation is traced to three dynamic social forces: degradation in the quality of work due to industrialization, the decline of community with urbanization, and a dramatic increase in inequality. Consequently, social respect and social standing came increasingly to be sought through consumption, which became a proxy for hard work, entailing a weakening of asceticism.