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How much did immigrant “quality” decline in late nineteenth century America?


Early twentieth century observers argued that recent American immigrants were inferior, and in particular less skilled, than the old. I estimate wage equations for 1909 allowing for different effects by nationality and for different characteristics on arrival. I then apply the estimated wage differentials to the immigrant composition to measure the effect of changing composition on immigrant earnings. Finally I ask how immigrant earning power changed relative to that of native Americans. I conclude that immigrant “quality” in terms of earnings did decline due to shifting composition but these effects are very small compared with those reported in studies of the post-second World War period.

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Received: 1 September 1997/Accepted: 6 June 1998

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Hatton, T. How much did immigrant “quality” decline in late nineteenth century America?. J Popul Econ 13, 509–525 (2000).

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  • JEL classification: J15
  • J31
  • J61
  • N11
  • Key words: United States immigration history