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Fertility Responses of High-Skilled Native Women to Immigrant Inflows


Despite debate regarding the magnitude of the impact, immigrant inflows are generally understood to depress wages and increase employment in immigrant-intensive sectors. In light of the overrepresentation of the foreign-born in the childcare industry, this article examines whether college-educated native women respond to immigrant-induced lower cost and potentially more convenient childcare options with increased fertility. An analysis of U.S. Census data between 1980 and 2000 suggests that immigrant inflows are indeed associated with native women’s increased likelihoods of having a baby, and responses are strongest among women who are most likely to consider childcare costs when making fertility decisions—namely, married women and women with a graduate degree. Given that native women also respond to immigrant inflows by working long hours, this article concludes with an analysis of the types of women who have stronger fertility responses versus labor supply responses to immigration.

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  1. I ran models adding recent 2007–2011 American Community Survey (ACS) data to my sample, but standard errors were too large to draw any conclusions. One potential explanation for this is that the Great Recession induced more noise into fertility decisions. To examine this possibility, I reran the analysis using ACS data from before the recession, 2005–2007; this did not have any meaningful impact on results. I also considered the possibility that the instrumental variable, which is constructed from 1970 immigrant distributions, is simply not very predictive of immigrant concentrations 40 years later. This does not seem to be the case, either, because first-stage estimates were quite strong. Moreover, immigrant share coefficient estimates were statistically insignificant even in OLS models. These analyses lead to me to conclude that the explanation for the noisy estimates is related to how the ACS data are collected. Although census data are collected within a period of a few months in a particular year, ACS data are collected continuously over the course of several years. Thus, the constructed share low-skilled immigrant variable may be a very poor measure of immigrant concentration when women are making fertility decisions, especially those women sampled in 2007.

  2. A mother who has given birth in the previous year but whose baby does not reside with her will not be counted in this fertility measure. Adoptive mothers and stepmothers, however, are treated as if they have given birth. Despite this, I use “having given birth” and “having had a baby in the past year” interchangeably with “having a young child in the household” throughout the article. I also examined the impact of immigration on the number of children under age 5 in the household as well as the likelihood that women have a child younger than ages 3 and 5. Results (available upon request) were robust across these different measures of fertility.

  3. I would have liked to use the share of low-skilled female immigrants, but this variable is almost perfectly correlated with the share of low-skilled male immigrants. Given that I cannot include both separately in the regressions, I chose to use the total share of low-skilled immigrants in order to be consistent with prior research in this literature.

  4. Yearly estimates of the foreign-born population can be derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS) for years following 1994 but not before that. Another problem with CPS data is that sample sizes are significantly smaller than those in the census.

  5. If women can anticipate future immigrant inflows (specifically from countries with large representations in their MSAs in 1970, given the IV identification), then it is possible that the 36- to 42-year-olds are merely compensating for previous decreases in fertility. To examine this, I considered the impact of future immigrant inflows on current period fertility. If women responded to future immigrant inflows by decreasing current period fertility, I would have expected a negative coefficient on these future immigrant inflows. Instead, I estimated a positive but statistically insignificant coefficient on the future immigrant share variable. These results are available upon request.

  6. College graduates are likely to be high demanders of household services and, for the most part, will have incomes that are not directly tied to wages in low-skill services markets. Females are not included in the income measure because their labor supply and earnings might be directly affected by wages of childcare workers. To account for top-coding, which was an issue only in 1980, I impute values for individuals whose income had been top-coded using a region-specific Pareto extrapolation.

  7. I include only women with at least a college degree in the main sample because of concerns that immigrant inflows directly impact the wages and types of jobs available to low-skilled native-born women. Given that college-educated women are not easily substituted with low-skilled immigrant labor, I am more comfortable arguing that the main effect of immigration on these women operates through childcare markets. Nevertheless, in Table 10 in Appendix 1, I also compare impacts for women with less than a college degree. Notice that immigrant inflows have smaller impacts on women without a college degree and no impact on the fertility decisions of women with less than a high school diploma.

  8. In fact, these estimates imply that black women decrease fertility in response to immigrant inflows. Additional analyses, however, suggest that this result is not robust. In models with year fixed effects instead of region-year fixed effects, the estimated immigration coefficient for blacks is significantly smaller in magnitude and not statistically significant. Results from models with interactions between the race variables and immigrant inflows suggest that just like white women, black women increase fertility in response to immigration—just not as much.

  9. Proportions were constructed using data on immigrants in the labor force. A list of countries in each of the categories is provided in Appendix 2.

  10. Cortés and Tessada (2011) estimated negative but statistically insignificant effects of immigrant-induced increases in the low-skilled labor force on labor force participation.

  11. In a similar analysis, I compared married with unmarried women. Not surprisingly, married women were significantly more likely to respond to immigrant inflows by increasing fertility relative to labor supply. However, the relationship was not robust to weighting the estimates by the means of the dependent variables.


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I am especially grateful to Heinrich Hock for the substantial contributions he made to early incarnations of this article. The many lengthy discussions as well as the draft code he generously provided were instrumental for completing the analysis. I also thank Patricia Cortés, referees of this journal, and workshop participants at the University of Connecticut, Dartmouth College, NBER Summer Institute, and the IZA 11th Annual Migration Meeting for the many helpful comments. The bulk of this project was completed while I visited Boston University. I thank members of the BU Economics Department for their hospitality as well as the many insights they provided while I was writing this article.

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Correspondence to Delia Furtado.


Appendix 1

Table 8 First-stage regression
Table 9 Impacts of immigration at various points of wage distribution
Table 10 Heterogeneous responses to immigrant inflows by education: Dependent variable is child

Appendix 2

High-childcare countries include (from lowest concentration of childcare workers to highest):

Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, France, Argentina, Algeria, British West Indies, Ireland, Fiji, Wales, Norway, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Belize/British Honduras, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Denmark, Honduras, Sudan, Bolivia, Guatemala, Bermuda, Cameroon, Greenland, and Paraguay.

Low-childcare countries include (from lowest concentration of childcare workers to highest):

Albania, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda, Qatar, Yemen, PDR (South), Nepal, St. Helena and Ascension, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Lithuania, Zimbabwe, Latin America, ns, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Yemen Arab Republic (North), Oman, Falkland Islands, Somalia, Morocco, Hungary, Vietnam, Laos, Ghana, Greece, Lebanon, Nigeria, Egypt/United Arab Rep., Yugoslavia, Turkey, Czechoslovakia, India, Syria, South Africa (Union of), China, Romania, Cuba, USSR/Russia, Western Samoa, Italy, Libya, Tanzania, Korea, Portugal, Philippines, New Zealand, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Ethiopia, Thailand, Cambodia (Kampuchea), Haiti, Iran, Singapore, American Samoa, Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, Canada, Dominican Republic, Japan, Burma (Myanmar), Australia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Latvia, Panama, Scotland, Mexico, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Tonga, Venezuela, Finland, Cape Verde, Switzerland, Sweden, Jamaica, Kenya, Austria, England, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

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Furtado, D. Fertility Responses of High-Skilled Native Women to Immigrant Inflows. Demography 53, 27–53 (2016).

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  • Fertility
  • Childcare
  • Immigration
  • Labor supply