Sociological Forum

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 647–670 | Cite as

Race, Labor Market Disadvantage, and Survivalist Entrepreneurship: Black Women in the Urban North During the Great Depression

  • Robert L. Boyd


The resource constraint version of the disadvantage theory of entrepreneurship holds that members of destitute ethnic groups often respond to labor market exclusion by becoming “survivalist entrepreneurs,” that is, persons who start marginal businesses in response to a need to become self-employed. Applying this theory, I analyze survivalist entrepreneurship among Black women in the urban North during the Great Depression, when many Black women had to find an independent means of livelihood. I hypothesize that (1) the participation of Black women in entrepreneurial occupations, i.e., occupations that lend themselves to self-employment, was positively associated with the disadvantage of these women in the labor market and (2) Black women would be inclined to participate in those entrepreneurial occupations with low barriers to entry, namely, boarding and lodging house keeping and hairdressing and beauty culture. These occupations, according to a review of historical studies, provided northern Black women with their best opportunities for survivalist entrepreneurship. The analyses of census data support my hypotheses and suggest that the resource constraint version of the disadvantage theory of entrepreneurship is relevant to the economic adjustment strategies of northern Black women during the nation's worst employment crisis.

black women entrepreneurship Great Depression northern cities 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bates, Timothy 1973 Black Capitalism: A Quantitative Analysis. New York: Prager.Google Scholar
  2. Bodnar, John, Michael Weber, and Roger Simon 1988 “Migration, kinship, and urban adjustment: Blacks and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900–30. ” In Raymond A. Mohl (ed.), The Making of Urban America: 170–186. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, Inc.Google Scholar
  3. Boyd, Robert L. 1996a “Demographic change and entrepreneurial occupations: African Americans in northern cities. ” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 55:129–143.Google Scholar
  4. — 1996b “The Great Migration to the North and the rise of ethnic niches for African American women in beauty culture and hairdressing. ” Sociological Focus 29:33–45.Google Scholar
  5. Butler, John Sibley 1991 Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  6. Drake, St. Clair, and Horace Cayton 1962 Black Metropolis. (1945) New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company (original publication date).Google Scholar
  7. Du Bois, W. E. B. 1973 The Philadelphia Negro. (1899) Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson Organization, Ltd (original publication date).Google Scholar
  8. Farley, Reynolds, and Walter R. Allen 1987 The Color Line and the Quality of Life in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  9. Frazier, E. Franklin 1949 The Negro in the United States. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  10. — 1966 The Negro Family in the United States. (1939) Chicago: University of Chicago Press (original publication date).Google Scholar
  11. Grossman, James R. 1989 Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Harmon, J. H. 1929 “The Negro as a local businessman. ” Journal of Negro History 10:116–155.Google Scholar
  13. Harris, Abram L. 1936 The Negro as a Capitalist. Philadelphia, PA: American Academy of Political and Social Science.Google Scholar
  14. Haynes, George F. 1924 “Negro migration—its effects on family and community life in the North. ” Proceedings of the Fifty-first Annual Session of the National Conference of Social Work. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  15. Henri, Florette 1976 Black Migration: Movement North, 1900–1920. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  16. Kiser, Clyde V. 1969 From Sea Island to City. New York: Athenevy.Google Scholar
  17. Kinzer, Robert H., and Edward Sagarin 1950 The Negro in Business: The Conflict Between Separatism and Integration. New York: Greenberg.Google Scholar
  18. Kmenta, Jan 1971 Elements of Econometrics. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  19. Kusmer, Kenneth L. 1976 A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870–1930. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  20. Levenstein, Margaret 1995 “African American entrepreneurship: the view from the 1910 Census. ” Business and Economic History 24:106–122.Google Scholar
  21. Lieberson, Stanley 1980 A Piece of the Pie: Blacks and White Immigrants Since 1880. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  22. Light, Ivan 1972 Ethnic Enterprise in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  23. — 1977 “The ethnic vice industry, 1880– 1944. ” American Sociological Review 42:464–479.Google Scholar
  24. 1979 “Disadvantaged minorities in self-employment. ” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 20:31–45.Google Scholar
  25. Light, Ivan, and Stavros Karageorgis 1994 “The ethnic economy. ” In Neil J. Smelser and Richard Swedberg (eds.), The Handbook of Economic Sociology: 647–671. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert L. Boyd
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social WorkMississippi State University

Personalised recommendations