How successful are today’s immigrants compared to the immigrants of a century ago? How well are they adapting to the larger society? Even though their ethnic and racial backgrounds, as well as the economy in which they must function, are so different from the past, are they advancing in a similar manner and continuing to realize the American dream. These are some of the questions explored in a new book entitled Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success, co-authored by Princeton Professor of Economics Leah Boustan, and Stanford Professor of Economics ran Abramitzky. In this Harvard Business Interview, available both in audio and printed format, the two authors review some of their principal findings. Their work is based on an analysis of the life trajectories of millions of immigrants and their children. Although we often assume that the “rags to riches” story happens in one generation, that is usually not the case, whether we look at immigrants of the past or those of today. However, the surprising result of their research is that the children of immigrants, both those of today and those of the past, all catch up economically with the U.S. born, often outpacing them in performance. Moreover, they adapt to the larger society at a similar pace, as measured by indices such as rates of intermarriage and English-speaking ability. Another interesting finding is that the children of internal migrants do nearly as well as the children of immigrants, suggesting that the willingness to move is one predictor of economic success. Finally, the authors tackle the question of whether immigrants are displacing U.S. born workers. According to Boustan, this is a kind of either-or question that obscures the real truth: “immigrants really are us. It is very hard to separate the nonimmigrants from the immigrants when we’re thinking about ‘American.’”
Immigration, Upward Mobility, and the U.S. Economy,
Harvard Business Review Ideacast, May 31, 2022, 17 pp.
Authors: Ran Abramitzky & Leah Boustan
(Audio and transcript of an interview about the authors’ recent published book)