How Labor Migrants Fare

Part of the series Population Economics pp 37-53

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

  • Timothy J. HattonAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, University of Essex

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


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