Garrett Jones Reviews the Literature on Immigrant Success

Recently I put up a few graphs showing that the income of immigrants is correlated with the income of the country from which they hailed, and that this relationship is especially true for immigrants who have been in the US the longest

Garrett Jones has been covering the same ground, and here he provides a bit of a review of the literature:

Recently, a small group of economists have found more systematic evidence on how the past predicts the present. Overall, they find that where your nation’s citizens come from matters a lot. From “How deep are the roots of economic development?”published in the prestigious Journal of Economic Literature:

A growing body of new empirical work focuses on the measurement and estimation of the effects of historical variables on contemporary income by explicitly taking into account the ancestral composition of current populations. The evidence suggests that economic development is affected by traits that have been transmitted across generations over the very long run.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s what I keep getting excoriated for writing around here.

More from Jones:

And finally, from “Post-1500 Population Flows and the Economic Determinants of Economic Growth and Inequality,” published in Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics:

The positive effect of ancestry-adjusted early development on current income is robust…The most likely explanation for this finding is that people whose ancestors were living in countries that developed earlier (in the sense of implementing agriculture or creating organized states) brought with them some advantage—such as human capital, knowledge, culture, or institutions—that raises the level of income today.

Hmmm… that too seems familiar.

Moving along, since many of today’s immigrants to the US hail from countries with very different institutions than their adopted home, this next paragraph from Jones is also very interesting (and also parallels quite a bit of what I have written):

If migration shaped institutions in the past, perhaps migration will shape institutions in the future. Or perhaps not: while violent European colonizers imposed their institutions and their culture on lands that had belonged to Native Americans, perhaps peaceful mass migration in the 21st century will leave today’s institutions and culture undisturbed. Perhaps, to coin a phrase, this time really is different.

The danger in all of this is that Americans are pretty bad at picking their bedfellows. If you doubt that, ask any of the nice women who attended the March on Washington this weekend what they think of cliterectomy-enthusiasts. Then ask them if they favor restricting the immigration of people from cultures where cliterectomy-enthusiasts are especially prevalent. Even if you point out this isn’t a case of a few bad apples giving the the rest a bad name – according to UNICEF there are countries where over 9 in ten women have been subjected to FGM – I am going to guess a lot of Americans find restricting immigration to be more icky than FGM. The result is that according to the CDC, in 2012 half a million women or girls in America were at risk of FGM.  The CDC attributed that to immigration from countries where the practice is rampant. Now, this behavior is still illegal here in the US, but that can change. After all, the people who would do such things to their daughters also vote.