Immigration, Science, and Invention. Lessons from the Quota Acts
67 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2020
Date Written: March 21, 2020
Immigration quotas in the 1920s targeted “undesirable” nationalities to stem the inflow of low-skilled Eastern and Southern Europeans (ESE). Detailed biographical data for 91,638 American scientists reveal a dramatic decline in the arrival of ESE-born scientists after the quotas. Under the quotas, an estimated 1,165 ESE-born scientists were lost to US science. To identify effects on invention, we use k-means clustering to assign scientists to unique fields and then compare changes in patenting by US scientists in the pre-quota fields of ESE-born scientists with changes in other fields where US scientists were active inventors. Baseline estimates imply a 68 percent decline in invention. Decomposing this effect, we find that the quotas reduced both the number of US scientists working in ESE fields and the number of patents per scientist. Firms that employed ESE-born scientists experienced a 53 percent decline in invention. The quotas’ effects on invention persisted into the 1960s.
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