Immigrants and Natives: Comparative Economic Performance in the U.S., 1850-60 and 1965-80

30 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2000

See all articles by Joseph P. Ferrie

Joseph P. Ferrie

Northwestern University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: September 1996


Immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the Civil War were less likely to reside in locations with high immigrant concentrations as their time in the U.S. increased. This is contrary to the experience of recent immigrants who show no decrease in concentration after arrival. The reduced isolation of antebellum immigrants was not due to their own movement to places with fewer immigrants but due to the movement of the native-born into places (particularly cities) with large immigrant concentrations. The isolation of contemporary immigrants even after several years in the U.S. thus results more from the reluctance of the native-born to relocate to places with many immigrants than from immigrants' reluctance to move to places with fewer immigrants. Contemporary immigrants had greater success than antebellum immigrants avoiding unskilled jobs as they entered the U.S. job market, though they moved out of unskilled jobs less often than antebellum immigrants when comparing their occupations at two points in time after arrival. Improvements in occupational mobility between antebellum and recent immigrants were most apparent among those in other than unskilled jobs. These findings suggest the need to reevaluate some of the premises upon which the concerns about the economic performance of recent immigrants are based.

Suggested Citation

Ferrie, Joseph P., Immigrants and Natives: Comparative Economic Performance in the U.S., 1850-60 and 1965-80 (September 1996). NBER Working Paper No. h0093, Available at SSRN:

Joseph P. Ferrie (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Economics ( email )

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