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Immigration and Inequality

  • David Card

Immigration is often viewed as a proximate cause of the rising wage gap between high- and low-skilled workers. Nevertheless, there is controversy over the appropriate framework for measuring the presumed effect, and over the magnitudes involved. This paper offers an overview and synthesis of existing knowledge on the relationship between immigration and inequality, focusing on evidence from cross-city comparisons in the U.S. Although some researchers have argued that a cross-city research design is inherently flawed, I show that evidence from cross-city comparisons is remarkably consistent with recent findings from aggregate time series data. Both designs provide support for three key conclusions: (1) workers with below high school education are perfect substitutes for those with a high school education; (2) "high school equivalent" and "college equivalent" workers are imperfect substitutes; (3) within education groups, immigrants and natives are imperfect substitutes. Together these results imply that the impacts of recent immigrant inflows on the relative wages of U.S. natives are small. The effects on overall wage inequality (including natives and immigrants) are larger, reflecting the concentration of immigrants in the tails of the skill distribution and higher residual inequality among immigrants than natives. Even so, immigration accounts for a small share (5%) of the increase in U.S. wage inequality between 1980 and 2000.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14683.

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Date of creation: Jan 2009
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Publication status: published as David Card & Andrei Shleifer, 2009. "Immigration and Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 1-21, May.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14683
Note: LS
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  1. David Card & Ethan G. Lewis, 2005. "The Diffusion of Mexican Immigrants During the 1990s: Explanations and Impacts," NBER Working Papers 11552, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 7800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. David H. Autor & Mark G. Duggan, 2003. "The Rise In The Disability Rolls And The Decline In Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 157-205, February.
  4. Ottaviano, Gianmarco I. P. & Peri, Giovanni, 2007. "Rethinking the effects of immigration on wages," HWWI Research Papers 3-8, Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI).
  5. Manacorda, Marco & Manning, Alan & Wadsworth, Jonathan, 2010. "The Impact of Immigration on the Structure of Wages: Theory and Evidence from Britain," CEPR Discussion Papers 7888, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Gordon Dahl, 1997. "Mobility and the Returns to Education: Testing A Roy Model With Multiple Markets," Working Papers 760, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  7. Murphy, Kevin M & Welch, Finis, 1992. "The Structure of Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 285-326, February.
  8. Katz, Lawrence F & Murphy, Kevin M, 1992. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963-1987: Supply and Demand Factors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 35-78, February.
  9. David Card, 2005. "Is the New Immigration Really So Bad?," NBER Working Papers 11547, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Enrico Moretti, 2002. "Estimating the Social Return to Higher Education: Evidence From Longitudinal and Repeated Cross-Sectional Data," NBER Working Papers 9108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Friedman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1997. "How Much Do Immigration and Trade Affect Labor Market Outcomes?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 1-90.
  12. Ottaviano, Gianmarco & Peri, Giovanni, 2008. "Immigration and National Wages: Clarifying the Theory and the Empirics," CEPR Discussion Papers 6916, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  13. Fisher, Franklin M, 1969. "The Existence of Aggregate Production Functions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 37(4), pages 553-77, October.
  14. 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.
  15. Ethan Lewis, 2003. "Local, open economies within the U.S.: how do industries respond to immigration?," Working Papers 04-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  16. 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.
  17. Marco Manacorda & Alan Manning & Jonathan Wadsworth, 2006. "The Impact of Immigration on the Structure of Male Wages: Theory and Evidence from Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0754, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  18. Ethan Lewis, 2004. "How did the Miami labor market absorb the Mariel immigrants?," Working Papers 04-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  19. George E. Johnson, 1997. "Changes in Earnings Inequality: The Role of Demand Shifts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 41-54, Spring.
  20. George J. Borjas, 1986. "Immigrants, Minorities, and Labor Market Competition," NBER Working Papers 2028, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Christian Dustmann & Tommaso Frattini & Ian P. Preston, 2013. "The Effect of Immigration along the Distribution of Wages," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(1), pages 145-173.
  22. Peter Kuhn & Ian Wooton, 1991. "Immigration, International Trade, and the Wages of Native Workers," NBER Chapters, in: Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market, pages 285-304 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Thomas Lemieux, 2007. "The Changing Nature of Wage Inequality," NBER Working Papers 13523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Grossman, Jean Baldwin, 1982. "The Substitutability of Natives and Immigrants in Production," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 64(4), pages 596-603, November.
  25. George J. Borjas & Lawrence F. Katz, 2005. "The Evolution of the Mexican-Born Workforce in the United States," NBER Working Papers 11281, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  26. Fisher, Franklin M & Solow, Robert M & Kearl, James M, 1977. "Aggregate Production Functions: Some CES Experiments," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(2), pages 305-20, June.
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