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The economic assimilation of Irish Famine migrants to the United States

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  • Collins, William J.
  • Zimran, Ariell

Abstract

The repeated failure of Ireland's potato crop in the late 1840s led to a major famine and sparked a surge in migration to the US. We build a new dataset of Irish immigrants and their sons by linking males from 1850 to 1880 US census records. For comparison, we also link German and British immigrants, their sons, and males from US native-headed households. We document a decline in the observable human capital of famine-era Irish migrants compared to pre-famine Irish migrants and to other groups in the 1850 census, as well as worse labor market outcomes. The disparity in labor market outcomes persists into the next generation when immigrants’ and natives’ sons are compared in 1880. Nonetheless, we find strong evidence of intergenerational convergence in that famine-era Irish sons experienced a much smaller gap in occupational status in 1880 than their fathers did in 1850. The disparities are even smaller when the Irish children are compared to those from observationally similar native white households. A descriptive analysis of mobility for the children of the famine Irish indicates that having a more Catholic surname and being born in Ireland were associated with less upward mobility. Our results contribute to literatures on immigrant assimilation, refugee migration, and the Age of Mass Migration.

Suggested Citation

  • Collins, William J. & Zimran, Ariell, 2019. "The economic assimilation of Irish Famine migrants to the United States," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 74(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:74:y:2019:i:c:s0014498319300403
    DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2019.101302
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    Cited by:

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    2. Philipp Ager & Leah Platt Boustan & Katherine Eriksson, 2019. "The Intergenerational Effects of a Large Wealth Shock: White Southerners After the Civil War," NBER Working Papers 25700, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Matteo Gomellini & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2019. "Brain Drain and Brain Gain in Italy and Ireland in the Age of Mass Migration," Palgrave Studies in Economic History, in: David Mitch & Gabriele Cappelli (ed.), Globalization and the Rise of Mass Education, chapter 0, pages 163-191, Palgrave Macmillan.
    4. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Platt Boustan & Elisa Jácome & Santiago Pérez, 2019. "Intergenerational Mobility of Immigrants in the US over Two Centuries," NBER Working Papers 26408, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Samuel Bazzi & Martin Fiszbein & Mesay Gebresilasse, 2020. "Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of “Rugged Individualism” in the United States," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(6), pages 2329-2368, November.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Migration; Refugees; Assimilation; Intergenerational mobility; Irish Famine;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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