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A Nation of Immigrants: Assimilation and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration

  • Ran Abramitzky
  • Leah Platt Boustan
  • Katherine Eriksson

During the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1913), the US maintained an open border, absorbing 30 million European immigrants. Prior cross-sectional work on this era finds that immigrants initially held lower-paid occupations than natives but experienced rapid convergence over time. In newly-assembled panel data, we show that, in fact, the average immigrant did not face a substantial occupation-based earnings penalty upon first arrival and experienced occupational advancement at the same rate as natives. Cross-sectional patterns are driven by biases from declining arrival cohort quality and departures of negatively-selected return migrants. We show that assimilation patterns vary substantially across sending countries and persist in the second generation.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18011.

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Date of creation: Apr 2012
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Publication status: published as “A Nation of Immigrants: Assimilation and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration,” with Leah Boustan and Katherine Eriksson, forthcoming Journal of Political Economy [current draft: August 2013]
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18011
Note: DAE LS
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  1. Per-Anders Edin & Robert J. LaLonde & Olof Aslund, 2000. "Emigration of Immigrants and Measures of Immigrant Assimilation: Evidence from Sweden," Working Papers 0020, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
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  5. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Platt Boustan & Katherine Eriksson, 2012. "Europe's Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses: Self-Selection and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 1832-56, August.
  6. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1991. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid- Century," NBER Working Papers 3817, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Eichengreen, Barry & Gemery, Henry A., 1986. "The Earnings of Skilled and Unskilled Immigrants at the End of the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(02), pages 441-454, June.
  9. Hoyt Bleakley & Aimee Chin, 2009. "Age at Arrival, English Proficiency, and Social Assimilation Among U.S. Immigrants," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0913, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
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  15. Minns, Chris, 2000. "Income, Cohort Effects, and Occupational Mobility: A New Look at Immigration to the United States at the Turn of the 20th Century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 326-350, October.
  16. Joel Perlmann, 1998. "Selective Migration as a Basis for Upward Mobility? The Occupation of the Jewish Immigrants to the United States, ca. 1900," Macroeconomics 9805023, EconWPA, revised 24 Feb 1999.
  17. Amelie Constant & Douglas S. Massey, 2003. "Self-selection, earnings, and out-migration: A longitudinal study of immigrants to Germany," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 16(4), pages 631-653, November.
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  21. 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.
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