Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Earnings disadvantage of immigrants: are we comparing apples to apples?

Fahad Gill


The substantial increase in the proportion of immigrants in the US population has attracted considerable research interest in their labor market outcomes, in particular, their relative wages. Most studies in this area, however, do not account for the fact that immigrants have unobservable characteristics that are different from those of natives and that are related to their decision to migrate to a new country. These characteristics, if not controlled for, may result in inaccurate estimates of the earnings disadvantage associated with immigrant status. This study attempts to account for unobservable characteristics associated with migration by comparing immigrants with native migrants. The results suggest that previous studies that used all natives as a comparison group may have provided a lower bound of the wage disadvantage faced by immigrants.


Immigrants; relative earnings; unobservable characteristics; internal migration

Full Text:



Borjas, J. G. (1985). Assimilation, changes in cohort quality, and the earnings of immigrants, Journal of Labor Economics, 3(4): 463-89.

Borjas, J. G. (1995). Assimilation and changes in cohort quality revisited: what happened to immigrant earnings in the 1980s?, Journal of Labor Economics,13: 201-45.

Borjas, J. G. (2006). Making it in America: Social mobility in the immigrant population (No. w12088). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Borjas, G. J., & Friedberg, R. M. (2009). Recent trends in the earnings of new immigrants to the United States (No. w15406). National Bureau of Economic Research.

BLS (2014.) Local Area Unemployment Statistics Home Page. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available at (accessed 19 May 2014).

Card, D. (2005). Is the new immigration really so bad? The Economic Journal, 115(507): 300-323.

Chiquiar, D., & Hanson, G. H. (2005). International migration, self-selection, and the distribution of wages: evidence from United States, Journal of Political Economy, 113(2): 239-81.

Chiswick, B. R. (1978). The effect of Americanization on the earnings of foreign-born men, Journal of Political Economy, 86(5): 897-921.

Duleep, H. and Regets. M. (2002). The elusive concept of immigrant quality: evidence from 1970-1990. IZA Discussion Paper No.631. Institute for the Study of Labor.

Feliciano, C. (2005). Educational selectivity in U.S. immigration: how do immigrants compare to those left behind?, Demography, 42(1): 131-52.

Funkhouser, E. and Trejo, S. J. (1995). The labor market skills of recent male immigrants: evidence from the Current Population Survey, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 48(4): 792-811.

Kao, G. (2004). Parental influences on the educational outcomes of immigrant youth, International Migration Review, 38 (2): 427-49.

Keller, U. and Tillman, K. (2008). Post-secondary educational attainment of immigrant and native youth. Social Force, 87(1): 121-152.

Lubotsky, D. (2007). Chutes or ladders? A longitudinal analysis of immigrant earnings, Journal of Political Economy, 115(5): 820–867.

Nwosu, C., Batalova, J. and Auclair, G. (2014). Frequently requested statistics on immigrants and immigration in the United States. Available at: (accessed 28 April. 2014)

Ruggles, S., Alexander, T., Genadek, K., Goeken, R., Schroeder, M. B., and Sobek, M. (2010). Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Hu, W. Y. (2000). Immigrant earnings assimilation: estimates from longitudinal data, American Economic Review, 90(2): 368-372.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Transnational Press London

Copyright © 2003-2016 Migration Letters / Transnational Press London | All rights reserved | Contact Us