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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
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).
Models were also estimated using hourly earnings rather than weekly earnings. The substantive findings are the same using either measure.
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.
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.
Arnold, F. W. (1984). West Indians and London’s hierarchy of discrimination. Ethnic Groups, 6, 47–64.
Borch, C., & Corra, M. K. (2010). Differences in earnings among black and white African immigrants in the United States, 1980–2000: A cross-sectional and temporal analysis. Sociological Perspectives, 53, 573–592.
Borjas, G. J. (1985). Assimilation, changes in cohort quality, and the earnings of immigrants. Journal of Labor Economics, 3, 463–489.
Borjas, G. J. (1986). The self-employment experience of immigrants. Journal of Human Resources, 21, 485–506.
Borjas, G. J. (1987). Self-selection and the earnings of immigrants. American Economic Review, 77, 531–553.
Borjas, G. J. (1994). The economics of immigration. Journal of Economic Literature, 32, 1667–1717.
Borjas, G. J. (1995). Assimilation and changes in cohort quality revisited: What happened to immigrant earnings in the 1980s? Journal of Labor Economics, 13, 201–245.
Butcher, K. F. (1994). Black immigrants in the United States: A comparison with native blacks and other immigrants. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 47, 265–284.
Chiswick, B. R. (1978). The effect of Americanization on the earnings of foreign-born men. Journal of Political Economy, 86, 897–921.
Chiswick, B. R. (1991). Speaking, reading, and earnings among low-skilled immigrants. Journal of Labor Economics, 9, 149–170.
Chiswick, B. R., & Miller, P. W. (1995). The endogeneity between language and earnings: International analyses. Journal of Labor Economics, 13, 246–288.
Corra, M. K., & Kimuna, S. R. (2009). Double jeopardy? Female African and Caribbean immigrants in the United States. Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies, 35, 1015–1035.
Correll, S. J., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? American Journal of Sociology, 112, 1297–1339.
Dodoo, F. N.-A. (1999). Black and immigrant labor force participation in America. Race and Society, 2, 69–82.
Dodoo, F. N.-A., & Takyi, B. K. (2002). Africans in the diaspora: Black-white earnings differences among America’s Africans. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25, 913–941.
Duleep, H. O., & Regets, M. C. (1999). Immigrants and human-capital investment. American Economic Review, 89, 186–191.
Funkhouser, E., & Trejo, S. J. (1995). The labor market skills of recent male immigrants: Evidence from the Current Population Survey. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 48, 792–811.
Glazer, N., & Moynihan, D. P. (1979). Beyond the melting pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Grosfoguel, R. (2003). Race and ethnicity or racialized ethnicities? Ethnicities, 4, 315–336.
Kalmijn, M. (1996). The socioeconomic assimilation of Caribbean American blacks. Social Forces, 74, 911–930.
Kent, M. M. (2007). Immigration and America’s black population. Population Bulletin, 62(4).
Konadu-Agyemang, K., Takyi, B. K., & Arthur, J. A. (2006). The new African diaspora in North America: Trends, community building, and adaption. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Korenman, S., & Neumark, D. (1991). Does marriage really make men more productive? Journal of Human Resources, 26, 282–307.
Lobo, A. P. (2001). US diversity visas are attracting Africa’s best and brightest. Population Today, 29(5), 1–2.
Mason, P. L. (2010). Culture and intraracial wage inequality among America’s African diaspora. American Economic Review, 100, 309–315.
McCabe, K. (2011). African immigrants in the United States. AfricaFocus Bulletin. Retrieved from http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/mig1108a.php
Model, S. (1995). West Indian prosperity: Fact or fiction? Social Problems, 42, 535–553.
Model, S. (2008). West Indian immigrants: A black success story? New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Moore, A. R., & Amey, F. K. (2002). Earnings differentials among male African immigrants in the United States. Equal Opportunities International, 21(8), 30–50.
Palmer, R. W. (1974). A decade of West Indian migration to the United States, 1962–1972: An economic analysis. Social and Economic Studies, 23, 571–587.
Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2007). Immigrant America: A portrait. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ruggles, S., Sobek, M., Alexander, T., Finch, C. A., Goeken, R., Hal, P., & Ronnander, C. (2004). Integrated Public Use Microdata Series [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: Minnesota Population Center.
Sowell, T. (1975). Race and economics. New York, NY: D. McKay Co.
Sowell, T. (1978). Three black histories. In T. Sowell & L. D. Collins (Eds.), Essays and data on American ethnic groups (pp. 7–64). Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Thomas, K. J. (2011). What explains the increasing trend in African emigration to the US? International Migration Review, 45, 3–28.
Tolnay, S. E. (2003). The African American “Great Migration” and beyond. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 209–232.
Vickerman, M. (1999). Crosscurrents: West Indian immigrants and race. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Waters, M. C. (1999). Black identities: West Indian immigrant dreams and American realities. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Black immigrants
- Labor markets