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International Migration, Self-Selection, and the Distribution of Wages: Evidence from Mexico and the United States

  • Daniel Chiquiar
  • Gordon H. Hanson

In this paper, we use data from the Mexico and U.S. population censuses to examine who migrates from Mexico to the United States and how the skills and economic performance of these individuals compare to those who remain in Mexico. We test Borjas' negative-selection hypothesis that in poor countries the individuals with the strongest incentive to migrate to rich countries are those with relatively low skill levels. We find that 1) Mexican immigrants, while much less educated than U.S. natives, are on average more educated than residents of Mexico, and 2) were Mexican immigrants in the United States to be paid according to current skill prices in Mexico they would tend to occupy the middle and upper portions of Mexico's wage distribution. These results are inconsistent with the negative-selection hypothesis and suggest, instead, that in terms of observable skills there is intermediate or positive selection of immigrants from Mexico. The results also suggest that migration abroad may raise wage inequality in Mexico.

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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Political Economy.

Volume (Year): 113 (2005)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
Pages: 239-281

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:113:y:2005:i:2:p:239-281
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  1. Robert J. LaLonde & Robert H. Topel, 1990. "The Assimilation of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Markets," NBER Working Papers 3573, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. George J. Borjas, 1991. "Immigration and Self-Selection," NBER Chapters, in: Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market, pages 29-76 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Kristin F. Butcher & John DiNardo, 1998. "The Immigrant and Native-born Wage Distributions: Evidence from United States Censuses," NBER Working Papers 6630, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Antonio Spilimbergo & Gordon H. Hanson, 1999. "Illegal Immigration, Border Enforcement, and Relative Wages: Evidence from Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1337-1357, December.
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  12. Chiswick, Barry R, 1978. "The Effect of Americanization on the Earnings of Foreign-born Men," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 897-921, October.
  13. Julian R. Betts & Magnus Lofstrom, 2000. "The Educational Attainment of Immigrants: Trends and Implications," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in the Economics of Immigration, pages 51-116 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  16. George J. Borjas, 1987. "Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants," NBER Working Papers 2248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Kristin F. Butcher & John Dinardo, 2002. "The Immigrant and Native-Born Wage Distributions: Evidence from United States Censuses," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 56(1), pages 97-121, October.
  18. William Carrington & Enrica Detragiache, 1998. "How Big is the Brain Drain?," IMF Working Papers 98/102, International Monetary Fund.
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