Selection, Language Heritage, and the Earnings Trajectories of Black Immigrants in the United States

Abstract

Research suggests that immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean surpass the earnings of U.S.-born blacks approximately one decade after arriving in the United States. Using data from the 1980–2000 U.S. censuses and the 2005–2007 American Community Surveys on U.S.-born black and non-Hispanic white men as well as black immigrant men from all the major sending regions of the world, I evaluate whether selective migration and language heritage of immigrants’ birth countries account for the documented earnings crossover. I validate the earnings pattern of black immigrants documented in previous studies, but I also find that the earnings of most arrival cohorts of immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean, after residing in the United States for more than 20 years, are projected to converge with or slightly overtake those of U.S.-born black internal migrants. The findings also show three arrival cohorts of black immigrants from English-speaking African countries are projected to surpass the earnings of U.S.-born black internal migrants. No arrival cohort of black immigrants is projected to surpass the earnings of U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites. Birth-region analysis shows that black immigrants from English-speaking countries experience more rapid earnings growth than immigrants from non-English-speaking countries. The arrival-cohort and birth-region variation in earnings documented in this study suggest that selective migration and language heritage of black immigrants’ birth countries are important determinants of their initial earnings and earnings trajectories in the United States.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Latin American subgroup comprises black immigrants from Mexico and Spanish-speaking countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The linguistic distinction among countries comes from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s 2012 World FactBook (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html).

  2. 2.

    Models were also estimated using hourly earnings rather than weekly earnings. The substantive findings are the same using either measure.

  3. 3.

    Models are also estimated with movers defined as black natives who moved within the last five years and who do not currently reside in their state of birth (results not shown); the substantive results of the article remain the same.

  4. 4.

    A supplemental analysis not included with this manuscript indicates that native whites who moved across states since birth also earn significantly more than native whites who reside in their birth state.

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Acknowledgments

Support for this research was provided by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant #5R24HD047879) and the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Correspondence to Tod G. Hamilton.

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Hamilton, T.G. Selection, Language Heritage, and the Earnings Trajectories of Black Immigrants in the United States. Demography 51, 975–1002 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0298-5

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Keywords

  • Black immigrants
  • Earnings
  • Assimilation
  • Labor markets
  • Race