Intergenerational Mobility of Immigrants in the US: Past and Present

Elisa Jacome, Princeton University
Leah Boustan, Princeton University
Ran Abramitzky, Stanford University
Santiago Perez, University of California, Davis

Both in the past and today, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce has been an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Many immigrant groups earn less than native-born workers upon first arrival in the U.S. and do not completely catch up within a single generation. This paper studies the economic mobility of the second generation in three cohorts: 1850-1880, 1910-1940, and 1980-2010. First, we find that earnings gaps between immigrant and native-born fathers are closed, or even reversed, by the next generation. Then, using Census and administrative data to link individuals over time, we find that the children of immigrants are more upwardly mobile than the children of native-born fathers with comparable family incomes or occupation scores. Finally, we consider a variety of factors—such as location choices and marriage patterns—to provide suggestive evidence for how the children of immigrants achieve higher levels of upward mobility.

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 Presented in Session 164. Linking: Following people and household through time