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The Economic Assimilation of Irish Famine Migrants to the United States

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  • William J. Collins
  • Ariell Zimran

Abstract

The repeated failure of Ireland's potato crop in the late 1840s led to a major famine and a surge in migration to the US. We build a dataset of Irish immigrants and their sons by linking males from 1850 to 1880 US census records. For comparison, we also link German and British immigrants, their sons, and males from US native-headed households. We document a decline in the observable human capital of famine-era Irish migrants compared to pre-famine Irish migrants and to other groups in the 1850 census, as well as worse labor market outcomes. The disparity in labor market outcomes persists into the next generation when immigrants’ and natives’ sons are compared in 1880. Nonetheless, we find strong evidence of intergenerational convergence in that famine-era Irish sons experienced a much smaller gap in occupational status than their fathers. The disparities are even smaller when the Irish children are compared to those from observationally similar native white households. A descriptive analysis of mobility for the famine-era Irish sons indicates that more Catholic surnames and birth in Ireland were associated with less upward mobility. Our results contribute to literatures on immigrant assimilation, refugee migration, and the Age of Mass Migration.

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  • William J. Collins & Ariell Zimran, 2018. "The Economic Assimilation of Irish Famine Migrants to the United States," NBER Working Papers 25287, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:25287
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    2. Samuel Bazzi & Martin Fiszbein & Mesay Gebresilasse, 2020. "Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of “Rugged Individualism” in the United States," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(6), pages 2329-2368, November.
    3. Abramitzky, Ran & Ager, Philipp & Boustan, Leah & Cohen, Elior David & Hansen, Casper Worm, 2019. "The Effects of Immigration on the Economy: Lessons from the 1920s Border Closure," CEPR Discussion Papers 14165, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Ager, Philipp & Boustan, Leah & Eriksson, Katherine, 2019. "The intergenerational effects of a large wealth shock: White southerners after the Civil War," CEPR Discussion Papers 13660, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Platt Boustan & Elisa Jácome & Santiago Pérez, 2019. "Intergenerational Mobility of Immigrants in the US over Two Centuries," NBER Working Papers 26408, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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