My dissertation employs computational and qualitative discourses analyses and econometric regression analyses to examine the practice and discourse of bankruptcy law in the United States from 1880 to 1940. This project is supported by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (#2017548).

The first chapter examines how lawmakers overcame a century of conflict over federal and eastern power to enact a stable bankruptcy law in 1898. I argue that debates over bankruptcy hinged on an attempt to morally determine who caused the economic failure: the creditor or the debtor. Bankruptcy was enacted by Republicans over Populist opposition. Focusing on the individual debtor’s actions, it created a mechanism for insolvent individuals and businesses to receive an immediate debt discharge only if creditors could not find proof of debtor malfeasance.

Despite this legislative conflict, chapter 2 shows that in the early twentieth century, personal bankruptcy became a widely employed tool for debtors to gain debt relief. However, bankrupts remained overwhelmingly native-born and immigrant white men. There was also state-level variation, as men of lower socio-economic status were significantly more likely to file for bankruptcy in states that facilitated the garnishment of debtors’ wages.

In the final chapter, I examine the creation and unanimous enactment of a voluntary debt payment plan in the 1938 Bankruptcy Act. Lawmakers engaged in “moral accounting” of retrospective “deservingness” and prospective “productivity” to argue that “deserving yet unproductive” insolvents, such as farmers and soldiers, should have an immediate discharge (Chapter VII), but that “deserving and productive” insolvents, such as manufacturing workers, should honorably pay their debts over time (Chapter XIII). This would help to minimize creditors’ losses and generate the trust necessary for the expansion of personal finance, while allowing social protection of those in need of immediate debt relief.

Empirically, this study sheds light on the enactment and institutionalization of America’s personal bankruptcy law. Theoretically, I provide evidence that despite a shift in “creditworthiness” towards “risk,” the state continues to enforce a moralized and inequitable creditor-debtor relationship. This research has implications for the study of credit markets, welfare states, and the cultural bases of social stratification.

[Chapter 3 Under Review]

The Effects of European Migration on Black Outcomes:

Approximately 1.5 million Black Americans migrated to the northern United States in the early twentieth century. This migration was concurrent with high levels of European immigration to the United States. However, empirically little is known about how these two migrations interacted with one another, and theoretically how the arrival of two outgroups shapes patterns of exclusion by members of the socially dominant group. This article helps to fill this gap by examining how European migration influenced the socio-cultural outcomes of Black migrants. Specifically, I create cross-sectional and panel datasets of non-northern-born Black men in 90 northern and western American cities between 1900 and 1930 in combination with a shift share instrument of predicted European immigration. I find evidence that European migration did not lead to additional socio-cultural exclusion of Black migrants. Nevertheless, labor market analyses show that Black migrant workers experienced occupational downgrading and sorting workers away from labor and craftsmen jobs and into the service sector. These results suggest that Black American migrants faced high levels of exclusion in light of European immigration as occupations were increasingly segregated along racial lines.

[Working Paper]

Lawsuits and Firm Diversity:

Racial and gender inequality remain central features of American workplaces. Scholars have examined how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) promotes equality through both direct enforcement and normative pressure. Though research has uncovered how highly visible firms are the most responsive to employment discrimination lawsuits in terms of subsequent managerial diversity, they have not been able to explain the persistent variation in inequality of the establishments within America’s most visible firms. This study incorporates scholarship on firm status, interfirm networks and peer learning, and firm boundaries to examine when managers are more or less successful in resisting normative pressures to diversify their workplaces. We employ Equal Employment Opportunity 1 (EEO-1) establishment-level data in conjunction with 985 employment discrimination lawsuits settled against S&P 1500 firms between 1997 and 2017 to examine the applicability of these theories to the study of organizational inequality. This study has the potential to demonstrate that both the parent firm’s status and their peer firms are important factors in shaping establishment-level responses to employment discrimination lawsuits.

[Data Application Under Review]