The Self-Employment Experience of Immigrants

Posted: 17 Nov 2009

See all articles by George J. Borjas

George J. Borjas

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 1986


Determines the self-employment rates for immigrants to the United States, examines how this differs from native-born men's self-employment rates, and analyzes the impact of assimilation and changes in cohort quality on the immigrant population's self-employment experience. Prior research on the labor market participation of immigrants has often ignored self-employment. Data drawn from the 1970 and the 1980 U.S. Census were analyzed. The sample selection was limited to male persons aged 18-24 in 1970 and 28-64 in 1980, and the study was conducted separately for each of six major immigrant groups: Mexican, Cuban, other Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, and African-American. Findings show that education has a positive, significant impact on self-employment rates in all samples. Self-employment increases with labor force experience and marital status, with the exception of African-American males. Surprisingly, poor health status of individuals was shown to have a positive impact on self-employment for most of the immigrant groups studied. Also demonstrated is the fact that self-employment probabilities are almost always larger for immigrants than for the native-born. For immigrants who have resided in the U.S. for 10 years or more, the probability of self-employment is equal to or greater than for the native-born. In the absence of quality differences among immigrant cohorts, most of the self-employment gap propensities between foreign and native-born are created within 5 to 10 years after immigration. Therefore, it can be concluded that assimilation increases self-employment probabilities. As well, geographic enclaves of immigrants increase the self-employment opportunities for immigrants sharing the same national background or language as the residents of the enclave. (SFL)

Keywords: Enclaves, U.S. Census Bureau, Immigrants, Age, Minorities, Individual traits, Educational background, Assimilation, Firm ownership, Operator ownership, Immigrant firms, Labor markets, Self-employment, Employment patterns, Minority firms, Ethnic & racial groups, Acculturation, Men

Suggested Citation

Borjas, George J., The Self-Employment Experience of Immigrants (1986). Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 21, Issue 4, p. 485-506 1986. Available at SSRN:

George J. Borjas (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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