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

  • Timothy J. Hatton
Part of the Population Economics book series (POPULATION)


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.

Key words

United States immigration history 

JEL classification

J15 J31 J61 N11 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Blau FD (1980) Immigration and Labor Earnings in Early Twentieth Century America. Research in Population Economics 2:21–41Google Scholar
  2. Borjas GJ (1985) Assimilation, Changes in Cohort Quality, and the Earnings of Immigrants. Journal of Labor Economics 3:463–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Borjas GJ (1992) National Origin and the Skills of Immigrants in the Postwar Period. In: Borjas, GJ, Freeman, RB (eds) Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 17–24Google Scholar
  4. Borjas GJ (1994) The Economics of Immigration. Journal of Economic Literature 32:1667–1717Google Scholar
  5. Borjas GJ (1995) Assimilation and Cohort Quality Revisited: What Happened in the 1980s? Journal of Labor Economics 13:201–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chiswick BR (1977) Sons of Immigrants: Are they at an Earnings Disadvantage? American Economic Review 67:376–380Google Scholar
  7. Chiswick BR (1978) The Effect of Americanization on the Earnings of Foreign-Born Men. Journal of Political Economy 86:897–921CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chiswick BR (1986) Is the New Immigration Less Skilled than the Old? Journal of Labor Economics 4:168–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chiswick BR (1992) Jewish Immigrant Wages in America in 1909: An Analysis of the Dillingham Commission Data. Explorations in Economic History 29:274–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Commons JR (1920) Races and Immigrants (2nd edn, reprinted 1967). Augustus Kelly, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Douglas P (1919) Is the New Immigration more Unskilled than the Old? Journal of the American Statistical Association 16:393–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Duleep HO, Regets MC (1997) The Decline in Immigrant Entry Earnings: Less Transferable Skills or Lower Ability? Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance 37:189–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eichengreen BJ, Gemery HA (1986) The Earnings of Skilled and Unskilled Immigrants at the End of the Nineteenth Century. Journal of Economic History 46:441–454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grant M (1923) The Passing of the Great Race, 4th edn. Charles Scribner, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. Hanes C (1996) Immigrants’ Relative Rate of Wage Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century. Explorations in Economic History 33:35–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hannon JU (1982a) Ethnic Discrimination in a Nineteenth century Mining District: Michigan Copper Mines, 1888. Explorations in Economic History 19:28–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hannon JU (1982b) City Size and Ethnic Discrimination: Michigan Agricultural Implements and Ironworking Industries. Journal of Economic History 42:825–845CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hatton TJ (1997) The Immigrant Assimilation Puzzle in Late Nineteenth Century America. Journal of Economic History 57:34–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Higgs R (1971) Race, Skill and Earnings: American Immigrants in 1909. Journal of Economic History 31:420–429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hourwich I (1922) Immigration and Labor: The Economic Aspects of European Immigration to the United States, 2nd edn. Huebsch, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Jenks JW, Lauck WJ (1926) The Immigration Problem, 6th edn. Huebsch, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Lalonde RJ, Topel RH (1992) The Assimilation of Immigrants in the U. S. Labor Market. In: Borjas JG, Freeman RB (eds) Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 67–92Google Scholar
  23. McGouldrick PF, Tannen MB (1977) Did American Manufacturers Discriminate Against Immigrants before 1914? Journal of Economic History 37:723–746CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tortella G (1994) Patterns of Retardation and Recovery in Southwestern Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Economic History Review 47:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. United States Immigration Commission (1911) Reports, 61st Congress, 3rd Session, Washington D. C. , Government Printing OfficeGoogle Scholar
  26. Williamson JG (1995) The Evolution of Global Labor Markets since 1830: Background Evidence and Hypotheses. Explorations in Economic History 32:141–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy J. Hatton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

Personalised recommendations