From Immigrants to Americans: Race and Assimilation During the Great Migration

90 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2018 Last revised: 14 Jun 2019

See all articles by Vasiliki Fouka

Vasiliki Fouka

Stanford University

Soumyajit Mazumder

Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Government

Marco Tabellini

Harvard Business School

Date Written: June 2019

Abstract

How does the appearance of a new immigrant group affect the integration of earlier generations of migrants? We study this question in the context of the first Great Migration (1915-1930), when 1.5 million African Americans moved from the US South to northern urban centers, where 30 million Europeans had arrived since 1850. We exploit plausibly exogenous variation induced by the interaction between 1900 settlements of southern-born blacks in northern cities and state-level outmigration from the US South after 1910. Black arrivals increased both the effort exerted by immigrants to assimilate and their eventual Americanization. These average effects mask substantial heterogeneity: while initially less integrated groups (i.e. Southern and Eastern Europeans) exerted more assimilation effort, assimilation success was larger for those culturally closer to native whites (i.e. Western and Northern Europeans). Labor market outcomes do not display similar heterogeneity, suggesting that these patterns cannot be entirely explained by economic forces. Our findings are instead more consistent with a framework in which changing perceptions of outgroup distance among native whites lowered the barriers to the assimilation of white immigrants.

Keywords: Immigration, assimilation, Great Migration, race, group identity

JEL Classification: J11, J15, N32.

Suggested Citation

Fouka, Vasiliki and Mazumder, Soumyajit and Tabellini, Marco, From Immigrants to Americans: Race and Assimilation During the Great Migration (June 2019). Harvard Business School BGIE Unit Working Paper No. 19-018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3242111 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3242111

Vasiliki Fouka

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Soumyajit Mazumder

Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Marco Tabellini (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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