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Imperfect Substitution between Immigrants and Natives: A Reappraisal


  • George J. Borjas
  • Jeffrey Grogger
  • Gordon H. Hanson


In a recent paper, Ottaviano and Peri (2007a) report evidence that immigrant and native workers are not perfect substitutes within narrowly defined skill groups. The resulting complementarities have important policy implications because immigration may then raise the wage of many native-born workers. We examine the Ottaviano-Peri empirical exercise and show that their finding of imperfect substitution is fragile and depends on the way the sample of working persons is constructed. There is a great deal of heterogeneity in labor market attachment among workers and the finding of imperfect substitution disappears once the analysis adjusts for such heterogeneity. As an example, the finding of immigrant-native complementarity evaporates simply by removing high school students from the data (under the Ottaviano and Peri classification, currently enrolled high school juniors and seniors are included among high school dropouts, which substantially increases the counts of young low-skilled workers ). More generally, we cannot reject the hypothesis that comparably skilled immigrant and native workers are perfect substitutes once the empirical exercise uses standard methods to carefully construct the variables representing factor prices and factor supplies.

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  • George J. Borjas & Jeffrey Grogger & Gordon H. Hanson, 2008. "Imperfect Substitution between Immigrants and Natives: A Reappraisal," NBER Working Papers 13887, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13887
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Card & Thomas Lemieux, 2001. "Can Falling Supply Explain the Rising Return to College for Younger Men? A Cohort-Based Analysis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 705-746.
    2. George J. Borjas & Jeffrey Grogger & Gordon H. Hanson, 2006. "Immigration and African-American Employment Opportunities: The Response of Wages, Employment, and Incarceration to Labor Supply Shocks," NBER Working Papers 12518, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Borjas, George J., 1999. "The economic analysis of immigration," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 28, pages 1697-1760 Elsevier.
    4. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2004. "Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 497-551, June.
    5. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Increasing Residual Wage Inequality: Composition Effects, Noisy Data, or Rising Demand for Skill?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 461-498, June.
    6. Jaeger, David A, 1997. "Reconciling the Old and New Census Bureau Education Questions: Recommendations for Researchers," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 15(3), pages 300-309, July.
    7. Card, David, 2001. "Immigrant Inflows, Native Outflows, and the Local Labor Market Impacts of Higher Immigration," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(1), pages 22-64, January.
    8. George J. Borjas & Lawrence F. Katz, 2007. "The Evolution of the Mexican-Born Workforce in the United States," NBER Chapters,in: Mexican Immigration to the United States, pages 13-56 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Gianmarco I. P. Ottaviano & Giovanni Peri, 2016. "Rethinking The Effect Of Immigration On Wages," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: The Economics of International Migration, chapter 2, pages 35-80 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    10. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-442, June.
    11. George J. Borjas, 2003. "The Labor Demand Curve is Downward Sloping: Reexamining the Impact of Immigration on the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 9755, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Faini,Riccardo C. & de Melo,Jaime & Zimmermann,Klaus (ed.), 1999. "Migration," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521662338, May.
    13. Abdurrahman Aydemir & George J. Borjas, 2006. "A Comparative Analysis of the Labor Market Impact of International Migration: Canada, Mexico, and the United States," NBER Working Papers 12327, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers

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