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The Economics of Mass Migration: Theory and Evidence

Final Report Summary - MIGRATION (The Economics of Mass Migration: Theory and Evidence)

This project studies the economics of mass migration. We study a period of history at the turn of the twentieth century, when tens of millions of Europeans voluntarily decided to migrate to the United States. We study the issues surrounding this using novel administrative records for over 20 million such individuals that traveled to the US between 1892 and 1924. We combine this information with multiple other data sources, including US census data.

The main findings from the project demonstrate that the majority of individuals travelling ot the US, did not end up residing their permanently. They either return migrated back home, or used the US as a stepping stone to some further destination. This reshapes thinking of this period of economic history, and also has implications for the large body of research, using the select group of migrants that chose to permanently reside in the US.

The second core finding relates to what our work uncovers in terms of the major public policy responses across the US, in the face of such large and heterogeneous inflows of migrants. We do so in the context of the American schooling system. We document that the bedrock of this system, compulsory schooling laws, were passed across states in response to the arrival of European migrants that had not previously been exposed to compulsory schooling in their country of origin. The link between migration and the development of the American schooling system has been proposed in many social science disciplines: we provide the first detailed quantitative evidence for it. In doing so, we highlight an important dimension of public policy responses to a large and heterogeneous inflow of migrants. Moreover, the work shows how certain institutions or civic values, such as those instilled through compulsory schooling, can be transported across contexts.