Kids of U.S. Immigrants Move Up Just Like Those 100 Years Before

William Edwards

(Bloomberg) -- Children of U.S. immigrants tend to earn more than their parents and have higher rates of upward mobility than their American-born peers.

Those are some of the conclusions in a working paper circulated this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research that explores how immigrants often improve their children’s prospects in life -- and shows those born to recent immigrants are moving up just like those who came to American shores a century before.

Many immigrants earn less than U.S.-born workers upon arrival, and while they don’t completely catch up in a single generation, their children do, according to the research by Ran Abramitzky of Stanford, Leah Platt Boustan and Elisa Jacome of Princeton University, and Santiago Perez of the University of California at Davis.

“Children of immigrants from nearly every sending country have higher rates of upward mobility than the children of the U.S.-born,” they said.

They also directly take on the politics around immigration, which was a central theme during the 2016 election that installed Donald Trump as president and remains a controversial topic as the country gears up for the 2020 campaign.

“Although some politicians have a short-term perspective on immigrant assimilation, our findings suggest that this view might underestimate the long-run success of immigrants,” they wrote. “Our findings are more consistent with the idea of the ‘American Dream,’ by which even immigrants who come to the U.S. with few resources and little skills have a real chance at improving their children’s prospects.”

The analysis tracks immigrants using historical data that stretch back more than 100 years. The first earliest groups consist of 4 million first-generation immigrants and their children in the 1880 or 1910 censuses, with the first group mostly from northern and western European nations such as Ireland or Germany, and the second including more from the southern and eastern parts of the continent who are thought to have faced more initial disadvantages in the labor market.

The researchers then follow the children of those groups to the 1910 and 1940 censuses using information on their names, ages and birthplaces. The historical data show “immigrant families were more likely than the U.S.-born to move to areas that offered better prospects for their children,” the researchers wrote.

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