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The Elusive Concept of Immigrant Quality: Evidence from 1970-1990

  • Duleep, Harriet

    ()

    (College of William and Mary)

  • Regets, Mark

    ()

    (National Science Foundation)

The labor market "quality" of immigrants is a subject of debate among immigration researchers, and a major public policy concern. However, traditional methods of measuring human capital are particularly difficult to apply to recently arrived immigrants. Many factors that have a negative effect on entry earnings also increase either the incentive or the opportunity for faster human capital investment and earning growth. In addition, many country-of-origin acquired skills that are not immediately valued in the U.S. labor market are useful to the acquisition of U.S. skills. Thus entry earnings are not a good measure of the stock of immigrant human capital. This article presents a model of immigrant human capital investment and, using 1970- 1990 census data, presents strong evidence of a systematic and important inverse relationship between initial immigrant earnings and subsequent earnings growth. This result – which persists even after accounting for differences in the immigration flows from different countries, sampling error, and the effects of emigration – is fundamentally different from both earlier cross-sectional estimates and more recent pooled models that constrain cohort growth rates to be equal. Although our model provides theoretical support for an inverse relationship only when source country human capital is held constant, faster earnings growth for low-entry-earnings immigrants is found empirically even when age and education are not controlled for. The immigrant human capital investment model presented here explores general principles that may apply to other labor market transitions that involve skill transferability – including occupational change and labor market reentry.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 631.

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Length: 35 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp631
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  1. Kristin F. Butcher & Anne Morrison Piehl, 1997. "Recent Immigrants: Unexpected Implications for Crime and Incarceration," NBER Working Papers 6067, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Sherrie A. Kossoudji, 1989. "Immigrant Worker Assimilation: Is It a Labor Market Phenomenon?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 24(3), pages 494-527.
  3. Gang, Ira N & Rivera-Batiz, Francisco L, 1994. "Labor Market Effects of Immigration in the United States and Europe: Substitution vs. Complementarity," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 157-75.
  4. Green, David A, 1999. "Immigrant Occupational Attainment: Assimilation and Mobility over Time," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(1), pages 49-79, January.
  5. David E. Bloom & Morley Gunderson, 1989. "An Analysis of the Earnings of Canadian Immigrants," NBER Working Papers 3035, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Robert F. Schoeni, 1997. "New Evidence on the Economic Progress of Foreign-Born Men in the 1970s and 1980s," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(4), pages 683-740.
  7. Jacob Mincer & Haim Ofek, 1982. "Interrupted Work Careers: Depreciation and Restoration of Human Capital," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 17(1), pages 3-24.
  8. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  9. Borjas, George J, 1985. "Assimilation, Changes in Cohort Quality, and the Earnings of Immigrants," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(4), pages 463-89, October.
  10. John M. Abowd & Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number abow91-1, May.
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