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Immigrants and Natives: Comparative Economic Performance in the U.S., 1850-60 and 1965-80


  • Joseph P. Ferrie


Immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the Civil War were less likely to reside in locations with high immigrant concentrations as their time in the U.S. increased. This is contrary to the experience of recent immigrants who show no decrease in concentration after arrival. The reduced isolation of antebellum immigrants was not due to their own movement to places with fewer immigrants but due to the movement of the native-born into places (particularly cities) with large immigrant concentrations. The isolation of contemporary immigrants even after several years in the U.S. thus results more from the reluctance of the native-born to relocate to places with many immigrants than from immigrants' reluctance to move to places with fewer immigrants. Contemporary immigrants had greater success than antebellum immigrants avoiding unskilled jobs as they entered the U.S. job market, though they moved out of unskilled jobs less often than antebellum immigrants when comparing their occupations at two points in time after arrival. Improvements in occupational mobility between antebellum and recent immigrants were most apparent among those in other than unskilled jobs. These findings suggest the need to reevaluate some of the premises upon which the concerns about the economic performance of recent immigrants are based.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph P. Ferrie, 1996. "Immigrants and Natives: Comparative Economic Performance in the U.S., 1850-60 and 1965-80," NBER Historical Working Papers 0093, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0093 Note: DAE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert A. Margo, 1992. "Wages and Prices during the Antebellum Period: A Survey and New Evidence," NBER Chapters,in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 173-216 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Komlos, John, 1987. "The Height and Weight of West Point Cadets: Dietary Change in Antebellum America," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(04), pages 897-927, December.
    3. Kiesling, L. Lynne, 1996. "Institutional Choice Matters: The Poor Law and Implicit Labor Contracts in Victorian Lancashire," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 65-85, January.
    4. Margo, Robert A. & Steckel, Richard H., 1983. "Heights of Native-Born Whites During the Antebellum Period," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(01), pages 167-174, March.
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    JEL classification:

    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative


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