Using longitudinal micro data for Mitsubishi Shipbuilding employees from 1918 to 1946, this paper quantitatively analyzes the promotion and selection process for white-collar workers during the prewar period. Previous studies on the postwar period have mostly examined this career pattern quantitatively, while historical studies focusing on the prewar period are mostly qualitative. Moreover, even the few quantitative studies on the prewar period do not employ such methods as career trees and event history analysis, which are generally used in the studies focusing on the postwar period. Therefore, the main purpose of this paper is to investigate the career pattern of white-collar employees in prewar Japan in a quantitative way comparable with studies focusing on postwar Japan.
We target two cohorts of white-collar workers—those who joined Mitsubishi Shipbuilding in 1918 and 1921—and track their careers (section and position) until 1946 by matching three internal data sources, including lists of personnel. We first draw up the career trees of new white-collar employees in both cohorts to illustrate the characteristics of their career patterns. Next, we employ event history analysis to test the differences in the career patterns between sub-groups, such as clerks and engineers. Finally, we estimate a logit model to determine the factors of their “survival” until 1939. We find that (1) the speed of promotion differs considerably across white-collar workers in the same cohort, (2) “return match” is observed not only in promotion to section manager positions but also in promotion to division manager positions, (3) despite a high ratio of resignation, most remaining white-collar workers are promoted to division managers, and (4) engineers are more likely than clerks to stay with the company for more than 20 years. Findings (1) to (3) are common to the career patterns of white-collar workers in the prewar core banks of Zaibatsu groups but contrast with those of large postwar firms.