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Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration


  • Marco Tabellini

    () (Harvard Business School, Business, Government and the International Economy Unit)


In this paper, I show that political opposition to immigration can arise even when immigrants bring economic prosperity. I exploit exogenous variation in European immigration to US cities between 1910 and 1930 induced by World War I and the Immigration Acts of the 1920s, and instrument immigrants' location decision relying on pre-existing settlement patterns. I find that immigration triggered hostile political reactions, such as the election of more conservative legislators, higher support for anti-immigration legislation, and lower public goods provision. Exploring the causes of natives' backlash, I document that immigration increased natives' employment and occupational standing, and fostered industrial production and capital utilization. Even in occupations highly exposed to immigrants' competition, there were no employment or wage losses among natives, suggesting that political discontent was unlikely to have economic roots. Consistent with this interpretation, I provide evidence that natives' backlash was increasing in the cultural differences between immigrants and natives. These results indicate that diversity might be economically beneficial but politically hard to manage.

Suggested Citation

  • Marco Tabellini, 2018. "Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration," Harvard Business School Working Papers 19-005, Harvard Business School, revised Apr 2019.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:19-005

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    Cited by:

    1. Jorge Tovar, 2018. "Performance, Diversity and National Identity Evidence from Association football," Documentos CEDE 016820, Universidad de los Andes - CEDE.
    2. Alesina, Alberto F & Miano, Armando & Stantcheva, Stefanie, 2018. "Immigration and Redistribution," CEPR Discussion Papers 13035, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Vasiliki Fouka & Soumyajit Mazumder & Marco Tabellini, 2018. "From Immigrants to Americans: Race and Assimilation during the Great Migration," Harvard Business School Working Papers 19-018, Harvard Business School, revised Jun 2019.
    4. Andrea Morrison & Sergio Petralia & Dario Diodato, 2018. "Migration and invention in the age of mass migration," Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography (PEEG) 1835, Utrecht University, Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Group Economic Geography, revised Oct 2018.

    More about this item


    Immigration; Political Backlash; Age of Mass Migration; Cultural Diversity;

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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