IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Era of Migration: Lessons for Today


  • O'Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj


The late 19th century, and more precisely the period between the Irish Famine of 1845-49 and the First World War, was an era of largely free migration. As such, it constitutes a unique policy experiment, in which migration flows reflected underlying economic forces, rather than government policy. Moreover, since there was large-scale migration between relatively rich countries with relatively well-developed states, and since the migration was legal, it was extremely well-documented. There are three big lessons from the late 19th century. First, emigration is an incredibly effective way for poor countries to raise their living standards. By blocking immigration, rich countries are making it much harder for poor countries to catch up on the OECD. Second, emigration is ultimately a self-limiting process. Left to its own devices, emigration from a poor country will eventually decline, although this may be preceded by an initial period of increasing emigration rates. Third, international migration can have big effects on internal income distribution, both in the source country and in the country of origin; and this leads to strong pressure for immigration restrictions. This last, pessimistic, conclusion ignores the possibility, however, that domestic and foreign institutions could help governments maintain relatively open migration policies.

Suggested Citation

  • O'Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj, 2004. "The Era of Migration: Lessons for Today," CEPR Discussion Papers 4498, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4498

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: CEPR Discussion Papers are free to download for our researchers, subscribers and members. If you fall into one of these categories but have trouble downloading our papers, please contact us at

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item


    history; migration;

    JEL classification:

    • F20 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - General
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4498. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.