Season 5, Episode 12
On this week’s episode of Freakonomics Radio: The argument for open borders is compelling — and deeply problematic. We hear from economists for and against the argument as well as immigrants, including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Read More »
What’s in a name? Steve Levitt and economists following on his work have examined how racial differences in given names generate (or don’t) differences in economic outcomes. A new paper (PDF) by Costanza Biavaschi, Corrado Giulietti and Zahra Siddique shows that first names mattered for immigrants to the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century: people who Americanized their given names did better economically thereafter.
But how to get around the possibility that those with more energy/ambition were more likely to change names—going from Giovanni to John or Zbigniew to Charles? Answer: use the complexity of the pre-change name to predict whether a person changes names; and this is a good predictor. Read More »
This week’s episode was inspired by a conversation that Stephen Dubner had on an airplane. (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) He was on his way to South Africa when fellow passenger Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Antifragile, told him something remarkable: “If you look at ten or twenty or thirty of the richest countries around the world, among the richest people in those countries is someone from Lebanon.” Of course Taleb would say this, Dubner thought. He is Lebanese. But the idea stuck. And that’s what this week’s episode is about.
How successful is the Lebanese diaspora? And how did they get to be this way? Read More »
A new study by Ariela Schachter, Rachel Tolbert Kimbro, and Bridget K. Gorman found that strong English skills and native language skills are associated with better health for immigrants. Using language as an indicator of adaptiveness to a new country, the researchers set out to investigate the “healthy immigrant effect”:
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The “healthy immigrant effect”—whereby immigrants initially appear healthier than the native-born, although with time in the U.S. their health status declines—continues to puzzle scholars. Acculturation, or the process by which immigrants adapt to a host country, is a primary explanation of this phenomenon.
A recent editorial in The New York Sun argues that all this political bickering about immigration among Republican candidates misses an important truth: America is actually underpopulated. From the article:
[N]ot a single Republican candidate has spoken up for the idea that America is an underpopulated country. In terms of population density, it is, at 83 persons a square mile, an impoverished country, barely a quarter of the rich density of China, which is running way behind India. America just has enormous room for population growth.
And a desperate need.
What do you think, readers? Is America under-populated? Would Montana and Wyoming, for example, benefit from a few more people?
(HT: Paul Kedrosky)
A study released this week by NBER measures the elasticity of substitution between American workers and their immigrant counterparts — in non-economic speak, the study asks whether immigrants are good substitutes for equally skilled native workers. While some comparisons remain murky, it appears that non-native workers are actually “perfect substitutes” for equally skilled native workers. The authors write:
In terms of the elasticity of substitution between equally skilled immigrants and natives, we conclude that the OP data, correctly analyzed, imply that the two groups are perfect substitutes. In fact, by using a statistically valid set of regression weights and by defining the earnings of a skill group as the mean log wage of the group (rather than the unconventional log mean wage used by OP), we find that the OP data reveal an effectively infinite substitution elasticity. The evidence thus implies that native workers are exposed to adverse effects from immigration-induced increases in labor supply.
From a Pew Research Center analysis of the latest Census data:
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In the decade from 2000 to 2010, the Mexican-American population grew by 7.2 million as a result of births and 4.2 million as a result of new immigrant arrivals. This is a change from the previous two decades when the number of new immigrants either matched or exceeded the number of births.
The current surge in births among Mexican-Americans is largely attributable to the immigration wave that has brought more than 10 million immigrants to the United States from Mexico since 1970. Between 2006 and 2010 alone, more than half (53%) of all Mexican-American births were to Mexican immigrant parents. As a group, these immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born Americans to be in their prime child-bearing years. They also have much higher fertility.
A Brookings report shows that for the first time, the share of working-age immigrants in the U.S. who have college degrees (29.6%) exceeds the share without a high school education (27.8%). In 1980, there were more than twice as many low-skilled immigrants living in the U.S. as high-skilled ones.
The report focuses on demographic trends in the 100 biggest metropolitan areas of the country over the past 15 years. While the Southwest and Great Plains remain destinations for low-skilled immigrant labor, much of the Northeast and Rust Belt now attract more immigrants with college degrees than those without. Read More »