Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 4: The Vocational Situation

The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 4: The Vocational Situation

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 17, 2011



Reasons for Studying the Vocational Situation

Before fully deciding upon a career, the young man would do well to inquire into the number of persons engaged in the different industries. If a person enters an occupation which is declining in importance, he may find, after many years spent in fully understanding the work, that his services are no longer in demand, and he must learn a new trade at a time when he can ill afford to begin again at the bottom. From the declining number of persons engaged in them, some occupations appear to be slowly dying, whereas others are growing vigorously; the livery stable business, veterinary medicine, blacksmithing, carpentry, and many others have been declining in relative importance, and a person should carefully investigate the phase of such occupations he intends to enter to see that further declines are not likely to leave him out of a job. On the other hand, the steel, automobile, electric, machine, printing, and a large group of other industries are increasing faster than the population of the country so that new openings are continually available. Some of these rapidly growing industries which engage but a relatively few workers, are like mushrooms – quick to grow and quick to die – and the student should investigate the history and prospects of all new trades before entering them. The old trades, like farming and railroading, are for the most part, as dependable as an old work horse and may be entered with fair assurance that the work will last for a lifetime unless a freakish phase of the industries is chosen.

Another useful purpose in studying the number of persons engaged in some industries, is to learn whether there is room to start up a new enterprise or a new profession. Even under good management a grocery store seldom succeeds unless there are more than 500 people to be served by it, and a meat market unless 1000 people live in the neighborhood. A dentist needs about 2000 possible customers in order to make a satisfactory living, and a physician at least 800.

Agricultural Occupations

In the whole United States each dairy farmer has about 900 possible customers, although, of course, many of these possible customers are farmers who produce their own milk and butter and also sell milk and butter themselves. The number of farmers specializing in dairying increased from 62,000 to 119,000 in the ten years between 1910 and 1920. Other specialists in farming who have more than increased in proportion to the population growth are stock raisers, fruit growers, gardeners, beekeepers, lumbermen, and foremen who direct the farming for the owners in various types of farming. General farmers increased in numb4ers from 5,864,000 to 6,005,000 between 1910 and 1920 but population increased faster than this so that each general farmer produces for 18 people, or more than 4 families now, whereas he produced for only 16 persons ten years before. General farmers compose the largest single group in any industry. In all the agricultural pursuits there were 10,953,000 persons engaged in 1920; this is 26.3 per cent of 41,614,000, the total number engaged in all occupations during that year. It is probable that the number in the agricultural pursuits would be considerably greater except for the fact that the census was taken in the winter when a large number of the agricultural laborers were in the cities waiting for farm work to begin.

The Mining Industry

The extraction of minerals required 965,000 people in 1910 and 1,090,000in 1920, which is hardly as rapid a growth as that of the population of our country. Each person engaged in these occupations produced coal, metals, and oil enough for nearly 100 people. Coal miners compose 734,000 of the total, or more than two-thirds of the mining group. Oil and gas well operatives showed the greatest increase in numbers in proportion to the population during the ten year period, the number engaged increasing from 26,000 to 86,000. Most of the mining occupations were using many fewer men than previously but mining is so variable according to the demands for the metals that the census does not give an altogether clear impression, because the number of mines shut down during the census period may vary greatly.

Manufacturing and Mechanical Industries

Each person engaged in the manufacturing and mechanical industries in 1920 was serving a little more than 8 of the general population,. Nearly 12,819,000 or 30.8 percent of those engaged in all occupations reported themselves as engaged in these industries. Not only is this the largest of the groups of occupations, but the proportionate number of all workers finding employment in it has been steadily increasing for several decades. In all previous census periods the agricultural group contained the largest number of persons.

Carpenters, with a total of 887,000 workers, or one to serve each 119 people, is the largest single division in the manufacturing and mechanical group, and machinists with 802,000 is next. Proportionately more carpenters were employed in 1910 than in 1920, but half again the proportionate number of machinists were reported in the latter year. Formerly a great many of the young men entering the trades in this group first obtained their skill by being apprenticed to master workmen, but today apprentices compose only about one half of one per cent of the total workers, or not nearly enough to fill vacancies; trade schools are yearly becoming more important in training young men in these lines. In 1910 there was a blacksmith for each 395 people but improved machinery and specialists to handle certain types of work formerly done by blacksmiths has reduced the number so that now each blacksmith serves 540 people. The other industries of this group showing the most marked increases in proportion to number of workers are electricians and electrical workers, jewelers and watchmakers, plumbers and gas fitters, bakeries, slaughter and packing houses, flour mills, and other food manufacturing houses, foremen and overseers in almost all factories, skilled and partially skilled workers in the iron and steel industries, and workers in the chemical industries. In most of the others there was a proportionate decline between 1910 and 1920 although part of the decline may have been due to unfavorable conditions during the latter year. About half of the workers in the manufacturing and mechanical trades are laborers, some skilled and some unskilled. The latter do the rough work such as carrying a hod for a mason and similar duties calling for little or no special training but much backbone and hard muscles, or do work requiring only a slight movement of the arm to feed material into a machine.


In the transportation occupations 3,064,000 persons were engaged in 1920 as compared with 2,637,000 in 1910, or approximately the same number in proportion to the population both census years. Each workman serves about 34 people. Other than the laborers on the railroads, draymen, teamsters, and expressmen constitute the largest class, with chauffeurs coming next. Chauffeurs increased from 46,000 in 1910 to 285,000 in 1920, which represents one of the largest increases in any occupation with such a large number of workers. In the latter year there was one chauffeur to each 370 people, but, of course, the proportion is much smaller in country districts and much greater in the large cities. Garage keepers and managers have also greatly increased, but there were only 42,000 of them at the last census. Conductors, brakemen, and engineers on trains each formed a class of more than 100,000 individuals.

The Trades

A slight proportionate increase of workers is found in the trade occupations, which in 1920 contained 4,243,000 individuals, or one to serve each 25 persons in the population. Over a million of those engaged in this group were salesmen and saleswomen, and over a million more were owners or managers of retail merchandise stores. Every variety of special retailers is represented but the largest classes are for grocers, which had over 239,000 reports, followed by butchers and meat dealers, druggists and general stores, the latter two with 80,000 representatives. The number of people served per workers in some of the other divisions of this group are: Commercial travelers, 588; bankers and brokers, 654 (1282 for bankers alone); real estate agents and officials, 709; insurance agents and officials, 781; and undertakers, 4,348.

Public Service

The public service group is the smallest of the groups and contained only 459,000 in 1910 and 770,000 in 1920, in the latter equaling one worker to each 137 population. Policemen, marshals, sheriffs, detectives, etc., make up 114,000 individuals which is equal to one for each 926 population. The number engaged in practically every branch of the public service group has increased in proportion to the population, one reason for which was that the war had just ended and special care had to be taken to protect life and liberty from unruly persons.

Professional Service

The professional service group, encompassing 2,144,000 workers, or one to each 49 population, includes mostly specialists who have needed a great amount of schooling or other training to reach this group. Teachers with 762,000 members are by far the most numerous part of the group, followed by trained nurses, physicians, and technical engineers with 149,000, 145,000 and 136,000 members respectively. The professional group has increased in relative number of workers in the past ten years, not a little of the increase coming from a greater number of teachers and nurses, although technical engineers, designers, draftsmen, inventors, and dentists have all shown substantial increase in relative as well as absolute number of workers. Some of the professions are undoubtedly overcrowded; lawyers and physicians have both declined in relative number of workers.

Domestic and Personal Service

The domestic and personal service group has clearly declined in importance during the past ten years both relatively and absolutely. In 1920 there were 3,405,000 engaged in this group, or one for each 31 population, whereas in the 1910 census there was one for each 24 population. The great decline has come in the classes called servants, porters, and independent laundrymen. Barbers, restaurant keepers and several others in the group have increased in numbers. There was one barber, hairdresser or manicurist for each 488 people.


The clerical occupations included 3,127,000 individuals in 1920, or a proportion of one for each 34 population. This is a considerable increase over that of 1,737,000 in 1920. The great increase comes from clerks, bookkeepers, accountants, stenographers, and general gents. Canvassers, collectors, messenger boys, and some of the others show a decrease.


1. Why is a study of the vocational changes which are taking place useful to the young man in choosing his life’s work?
2. Name some occupations which have decreased and others which have increased in importance in your community since you can remember.
3. Compare the population served in your community by grocery stores, meat markets, doctors, and dentists with the number given in the lesson.
4. Why are relatively fewer farmers needed now than formerly?
5. How do you account for the relatively large number engaged in manufacturing in recent years?
6. How do you explain the decline in the domestic and personal service group?


  1. The statistics in this lesson are very interesting. To examine the number of people served by each one in a profession is a much more immediate way to express market demand.

    My heart breaks for these young people preparing for their life’s work who will be begging to do any work at all within a decade.

    Comment by charlene — August 17, 2011 @ 9:15 am

  2. Agreed, on both counts.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 9:24 am

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