Climbing the ‘agricultural ladder’: Social mobility and motivations for migration in an Ecuadorian colonist community

During the early decades of the 20th century in the American Midwest young farming families achieved social mobility by moving up an ‘agricultural ladder’ through a series of rungs, from unpaid family work, to wage labor, to tenant farming, to a mortgaged farm, and, finally, to full ownership of a farm. In this paper we use the concept of an agricultural ladder to understand processes of social mobility in a Third World setting. A case study of a small rural community in the Ecuadorian Amazon reveals that while the young think in terms of an agricultural ladder, they see temporary labor migration to distant places, rather than local wage labor, as the only way that they can amass the capital necessary to purchase land and reach the top rung on the ladder.

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