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The Labor Market Effects of a Refugee Wave: Applying the Synthetic Control Method to the Mariel Boatlift


  • Giovanni Peri
  • Vasil Yasenov


We apply the Synthetic Control Method to re-examine the labor market effects of the Mariel Boatlift, first studied by David Card (1990). This method improves on previous studies by choosing a control group of cities that best matches Miami’s labor market trends pre-Boatlift and providing more reliable inference. Using a sample of non-Cuban high-school dropouts we find no significant difference in the wages of workers in Miami relative to its control after 1980. We also show that by focusing on small sub-samples and matching the control group on a short pre-1979 series, as done in Borjas (2017), one can find large wage differences between Miami and control because of large measurement error.

Suggested Citation

  • Giovanni Peri & Vasil Yasenov, 2015. "The Labor Market Effects of a Refugee Wave: Applying the Synthetic Control Method to the Mariel Boatlift," NBER Working Papers 21801, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21801
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Card, 1990. "The Impact of the Mariel Boatlift on the Miami Labor Market," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 43(2), pages 245-257, January.
    2. Angrist, Joshua D. & Krueger, Alan B., 1999. "Empirical strategies in labor economics," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 23, pages 1277-1366 Elsevier.
    3. David Card, 2009. "Immigration and Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 1-21.
    4. Alberto Abadie & Javier Gardeazabal, 2003. "The Economic Costs of Conflict: A Case Study of the Basque Country," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 113-132, March.
    5. 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.
    6. Giovanni Peri, 2014. "Do immigrant workers depress the wages of native workers?," IZA World of Labor, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), pages 1-42, May.
    7. Gilles Duranton & J. V. Henderson & William C. Strange (ed.), 2015. "Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier, edition 1, volume 5, number 5.
    8. 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.
    9. Bodvarsson, Örn B. & Van den Berg, Hendrik F. & Lewer, Joshua J., 2008. "Measuring immigration's effects on labor demand: A reexamination of the Mariel Boatlift," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 560-574, August.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Borjas 'On Mariel'
      by Mark Thoma in Economist's View on 2016-01-25 20:11:51
    2. On Mariel
      by George Borjas in LaborEcon on 2016-01-26 02:48:19
    3. No, el proceso de revisión por pares tampoco es perfecto
      by Libertad González in Nada Es Gratis on 2016-07-14 10:30:24


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    Cited by:

    1. Dalmazzo, Alberto & de Blasio, Guido & Poy, Samuele, 2017. "Local Secessions, Homophily, and Growth. A Model with some Evidence from the Regions of Abruzzo and Molise (Italy, 1963)," GLO Discussion Paper Series 125, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    2. repec:eee:respol:v:46:y:2017:i:6:p:1175-1185 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. George J. Borjas, 2017. "Still More On Mariel: The Role of Race," NBER Working Papers 23504, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Giovanni Peri, 2016. "Immigrants, Productivity, and Labor Markets," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(4), pages 3-30, Fall.
    5. Nikolay Doudchenko & Guido W. Imbens, 2016. "Balancing, Regression, Difference-In-Differences and Synthetic Control Methods: A Synthesis," NBER Working Papers 22791, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. repec:eee:juecon:v:102:y:2017:i:c:p:76-90 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Victor Chernozhukov & Kaspar Wuthrich & Yinchu Zhu, 2017. "An Exact and Robust Conformal Inference Method for Counterfactual and Synthetic Controls," Papers 1712.09089,, revised Jan 2018.
    8. Anthony Edo & Hillel Rapoport, 2017. "Minimum Wages and the Labor Market Effects of Immigration," Working Papers 2017-12, CEPII research center.
    9. Christian Dustmann & Uta Schönberg & Jan Stuhler, 2016. "The Impact of Immigration: Why Do Studies Reach Such Different Results?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(4), pages 31-56, Fall.
    10. Susan Athey & Guido Imbens, 2016. "The State of Applied Econometrics - Causality and Policy Evaluation," Papers 1607.00699,
    11. Lee, Neil & Morris, Katy & Kemeny, Thomas, 2018. "Immobility and the Brexit vote," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86367, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    12. repec:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:2:p:3-32 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Juan S. Morales, 2016. "The Impact of Internal Displacement on Destination Communities: Evidence from the Colombian Conflict," HiCN Working Papers 209, Households in Conflict Network.
    14. George J. Borjas, 2016. "The Wage Impact of the Marielitos: Additional Evidence," NBER Working Papers 21850, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. repec:eee:deveco:v:131:y:2018:i:c:p:132-150 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers

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