Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration

Report Author: 
Marco Tabellini
Original Date of Publication: 
May, 2018

Over the past decade, increases in immigration to the United States and Europe have caused severe political backlash. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing, and many right-wing movements have gained power by exploiting this animosity. However, this is not the first time in U.S. history that immigration has been so controversial. This paper analyzes the economic and political impact of the Age of Mass Migration from 1880 to 1914, when millions of Europeans emigrated to the U.S.. One of the main fears, then and now, was that immigrants would compete for available jobs and drive down wages in particular industries. . The author’s analysis suggests that this fear was unfounded; immigrants had a significant and positive effect on native workers’ employment. In fact, for every 10 new immigrants, two more native-born Americans found a job. Nor is there any evidence that immigration drove down wages.  However, the mere presence of large numbers of immigrants, even in geographic areas benefitting the most from immigration, created a political backlash, suggesting to the author that “cultural fears,” rather than economic concerns, drove the restrictionist movement.  His findings are “consistent with a long-standing idea in the literature that diversity can be economically beneficial because of gains from specialization and complementarity, but may be politically hard to manage, resulting in lower preferences for redistribution, more limited public spending, and higher conflict.” (Deb D’Anastasio for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)

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Citation: 

Tabellini, M. (2018). Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration. Working Paper. Retrieved from https://economics.mit.edu/files/13646

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