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The Immigrant and Native-born Wage Distributions: Evidence from United States Censuses


  • Kristin F. Butcher
  • John DiNardo


Over the past thirty years, immigration has increased, immigrant characteristics have changed, and the relative mean wages of immigrants vis … vis the native born have declined. Using data from four U.S. Censuses (1960 - 1990) we examine changes in the wage structure and their role in explaining comparisons between immigrants and the native-born in mean wages. Inter alia, we document that patterns of comparison between the immigrants and the native-born are not the same for men and for women, and that these differences in immigrant/native-born comparisons among men and women are a consequence of different evolutions in the wage structure. Although virtually ignored in the immigration literature, we return to a well-understood aspect of Blinder/Oaxaca differentials: the extent of measured discrimination depends on the base' prices used for comparison. Contrary to previous work which finds little impact of the wage structure on immigrant/native-born wage differentials, we observe that if the wage structure' had remained as it was in 1970, for example, the decline in immigrant wages relative to the native-born would generally be much smaller than has been observed.

Suggested Citation

  • Kristin F. Butcher & John DiNardo, 1998. "The Immigrant and Native-born Wage Distributions: Evidence from United States Censuses," NBER Working Papers 6630, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6630
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chiswick, Barry R, 1978. "The Effect of Americanization on the Earnings of Foreign-born Men," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 897-921, October.
    2. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Freeman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1992. "On the Labor Market Effects of Immigration and Trade," NBER Chapters,in: Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas, pages 213-244 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. John E. DiNardo & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 1997. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 291-303.
    4. Baker, Michael & Benjamin, Dwayne, 1997. "The Role of the Family in Immigrants' Labor-Market Activity: An Evaluation of Alternative Explanations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(4), pages 705-727, September.
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    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers


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