Revisiting Economic Assimilation of Mexican and Central American Immigrants in the United States

Giovanni Peri and Zachariah Rutledge
Published in
Research Briefs in Economic Policy No. 220, CATO Institute
Publication Date

The economic assimilation of immigrants, which economists usually measure by comparing the income and employment status of immigrants with that of similarly skilled natives, is a crucial outcome for several reasons. First, it affects the material and psychological well‐​being of immigrants. Their gains from migration are larger if they achieve earnings comparable to those of the receiving country’s residents. Second, economic assimilation is perceived by natives as a sign of how easily immigrants integrate into their society. A higher degree of assimilation fosters more open and positive opinions about immigrants as well as better attitudes toward immigration. The United States has historically been a place where immigrants, attracted by economic opportunities and the potential of successful careers, have been able to overcome initial difficulties and succeed economically. While differences among national groups exist, the narrative of immigration to the United States prior to the 1980s is that most immigrants converged to natives’ economic success and assimilated economically. According to evidence on earlier immigrants, when compared to similar natives, they did not have a significant initial income and employment gap.

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