Immigration, Science, and Invention. Lessons from the Quota Acts

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See all articles by Petra Moser

Petra Moser

NYU Stern Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Shmuel San

New York University (NYU) - Department of Economics

Date Written: March 21, 2020

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Moser, Petra and San, Shmuel, Immigration, Science, and Invention. Lessons from the Quota Acts (March 21, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Petra Moser (Contact Author)

NYU Stern Department of Economics ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Shmuel San

New York University (NYU) - Department of Economics ( email )

19 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

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