Social Inequality in Early 20th-Century Puerto Rico: Population as a Mediator

Katherine J. C. White, University of Wisconsin at Madison

This study investigates the relationship between economic transitions, population responses, and resultant changes in the stratification system. Multilevel regression techniques are used to estimate the relationship between economic production and social inequality within geographically-defined areas and to test the hypothesis that the association between economic production and within-area social inequality is positively conditioned by population. Early twentieth century Puerto Rico offers a compelling case since this period of the island’s history marks momentous shifts in political governance and economic interests with resultant changes in land use, population distribution, and social inequality. U.S. interests produced a shift in land use practices through the expansion of the sugar industry and the considerable reduction in coffee cultivation and subsistence farming. The transition unfolded over time and was experienced differentially within space, I argue, according to ecological factors associated with societal organization including economic production.

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Presented in Session 15: Historical Perspectives on Inequality