When Stephan Thernstrom studied the children of laborers who lived in mid-nineteenth century Newburyport, Massachusetts, he made “a striking discovery.” The sons of those who had managed to purchase a home were less likely to be upwardly mobile. This finding, which at first sight seems so counterintuitive, Thernstrom explained in a manner that bears directly on the determinants of schooling in the nineteenth century:
Common sense suggests that youths from the thrifty, respectable, homeowning segment of the working class would develop higher ambitions than the children of laborers living at the bare subsistence level, and that they would possess superior resources in the contest for better jobs…. [But] the ordinary workman of nineteenth century Newburyport could rarely build up a savings account and purchase a home without making severe sacrifices. To cut family consumption expenditures to the bone was one such sacrifice. To withdraw the children from school and to put them to work at the age of ten or twelve was another. For the working class families of nineteenth century Newburyport, therefore property mobility did not usually facilitate inter-generational occupational mobility; often it was achieved by sacrificing the education of the younger generation.