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Hey there, it’s Stephen Dubner. And this is a bonus episode, one last addition to our series called “The True Story of America’s Supremely Messed-Up Immigration System.” I learned a lot making this series — including how little most of us know about immigration. One of the main voices in those episodes was Zeke Hernandez, a business professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He came to our attention because of a book he’s got coming out soon, called The Truth About Immigration. The book includes a quiz, and we thought it might be interesting to have some Freakonomics Radio listeners take this quiz. So that’s what we’re hearing today. Let’s see how they did.

Stephen DUBNER: Hello? 

Jacob CYBULSKI: Hi, this is Jacob. 

DUBNER: Jacob. Hey, this is Stephen Dubner. How are you? 

CYBULSKI: Good. Stephen, how are you doing, man?  

DUBNER: I’m doing great. Thank you. I’m here with Zeke Hernandez, who’s a business professor at Wharton.

Zeke HERNANDEZ: Hey, Jacob. How are you?  

CYBULSKI: Good, man. 

DUBNER: Now, Jacob, — tell us your last name and how old you are. 

CYBULSKI: Cybulski. And I’m 30 years old. 

DUBNER: Where do you live, and what do you do?  

CYBULSKI: I’m a United States Marine Corps officer. I live in Wilmington, North Carolina, and I work as a combat engineer officer on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  

DUBNER: Now, Jacob, would you consider yourself an expert on immigration to the U.S., by any chance?  

CYBULSKI: No, sir. Not really. I’m from Texas originally, but — but no.

DUBNER: Have you lived outside the U.S., whether on Marine Corps duty or otherwise? 

CYBULSKI: Yes, sir. I lived in Japan — Okinawa, Japan, for four years.  

DUBNER: Well, Zeke, as I mentioned, is a business professor at Wharton, but he’s also an expert in immigration and has written a book called The Truth About Immigration, which was one of the foundations for a series that we are getting ready to put out very soon. And we wanted to run this quiz with listeners. This will come out after the series has aired, but in order to make sure you, Jacob, wouldn’t cheat, we’re asking the questions before the series aired, because — 

CYBULSKI: That’s smart, Stephen, because I definitely would. 

DUBNER: I appreciate the candor. Okay, so Zeke has some questions for you.

HERNANDEZ: All right Jacob, you ready? 

CYBULSKI: Yes sir.  

HERNANDEZ: Okay, here’s the first question. What percentage of the world’s population are immigrants? That is, people who live in countries they weren’t born in. 

CYBULSKI: I’ll say 33 percent.

HERNANDEZ: You said 33 percent, right? 

CYBULSKI: Yes, sir.  

HERNANDEZ: So the right answer is 3.6 percent.  

CYBULSKI: Oh. Oh my God.  

DUBNER: But, Jacob. Jacob, can I tell you what? You shouldn’t feel bad, because when I first read that number in Zeke’s book, 3.6 percent, I literally put my thumb on the ink to smudge it to see if it was a typo. I thought, there’s no way, and my guess was around 30 percent too.

CYBULSKI: I still feel bad though, but if I’m in the same ballpark as Stephen Dubner I feel like I’m okay. I’ll get the next one, I promise.  

HERNANDEZ: All right, here comes the next question. Let’s ask you the same question, but for the U.S., that is, what percentage of the U.S. population is foreign-born?  

CYBULSKI: I’ll say 9 percent.

HERNANDEZ: Nine percent. Okay. So I’m sure you adjusted down because of the answer you just gave. The right answer is 14 percent.   

CYBULSKI: Yeah okay. I don’t feel as bad. 

DUBNER: Hey Jacob. I know it’s impossible to go back in your mind, but pretend that we’d asked you those two questions in tandem. The percentage of the world’s population, and you thought 33 percent. And then percentage of the U.S. population that are immigrants, foreign-born, what do you think you would have said?  

CYBULSKI: Just looking at, like, the headlines I read about, like, immigration crisis and things like that, I think I’d still be around 33 percent to like a quarter of the population, just from the headlines I’m reading. 

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. And that’s the common, I think, reason why people always on average overestimate, is just that the headlines make it seem like this is an issue or a problem, depending on how you see it, that is much bigger than it actually is.  

DUBNER: Zeke, I wonder if maybe Jacob being in the Marine Corps may also influence his thinking a little bit because, you know, the military is one of the most integrated institutions in this country. Do you know anything about how people, either in universities, the military, you know, sports teams, or another institution that tend to be more diverse than a lot of other populations — do you know anything about the difference in how different groups like that answer questions like these?  

HERNANDEZ: You know, I don’t. I would love to know, but I don’t.   

DUBNER: Okay, Zeke, do you have one more question for Jacob? 

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. Let’s ask you this question. So the average undocumented immigrant in the U.S. has lived in this country for approximately how long? I have four options for you: three months, two years, ten years, or 25 years.  

CYBULSKI: I’m going to go with 25 years. 

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, so the correct answer is a bit over 10 years. Somewhere between 10 to 14 years is about the average.

DUBNER: I will say this, Jacob has gotten slightly less wrong with every question, which I think is the sign of an intelligent person. He’s adjusting. I think we need to give him one more. And I think he’s going to nail it, Zeke.  

CYBULSKI: I appreciate the opportunity, gentleman. 

HERNANDEZ: All right. So, 21 percent of the children born to U.S. parents — that is, native parents — are high income earners, meaning they’re above the middle class. Okay? Twenty-one percent. What is that percentage for the children that are born to immigrant parents in the United States? I have four options for you here. So A, 15 percent; B, 21 percent; C, 28 percent; and D, 35 percent.  

CYBULSKI: Man, I’m gonna say C, 28 percent.

HERNANDEZ: You were close. The correct answer is 35 percent, but you were on the higher end. Most people would guess below that. Most people would think that the children of immigrants are poorer than the children of native parents, but it’s the opposite.  

CYBULSKI: That makes me think of The Millionaire Next Door, that book, you know that like all these immigrant parents that come in like make their kids wealthy, then they blow it all by the second generation? 

DUBNER: Are you telling that as a cautionary tale or as a personal story from your past, I’m curious?  

CYBULSKI: I have blown no money. No, I grew up ridiculously poor. But now, you know, captain in the Marine Corps, we have a house, so this is — we’re doing okay.  

DUBNER: Congratulations. Jacob, it was great to speak with you. Thanks a million. 

CYBULSKI: Awesome. Thanks, guys. Appreciate you.

DUBNER: Hi, this is Stephen. Can you hear me? 


DUBNER: What’s your name? 

LINDSAY PRIGGE: Lindsay Prigge. And I’m here with my husband, Brian.  

DUBNER: Hi, Brian. So, Lindsay and Brian, is Brian going to take the quiz as well? 


DUBNER: I want a prediction right now. Who do you think will do better, Lindsay — you or Brian? 

LINDSAY PRIGGE: Oh. Can I get a hint about what the topic is? 

DUBNER: Nope. 

LINDSAY PRIGGE: I’m going to say me only because he had no idea I put his name on the list.  

DUBNER: Nice. Okay. Where do you live and what do you do?  

LINDSAY PRIGGE: We live in the suburbs of Chicago. He works in health tech, and I primarily am at home with our kids. 

DUBNER: Would either of you consider yourself an expert on immigration to the United States?  


DUBNER: Excellent. Lindsay and Brian, I’d like you to meet Zeke Hernandez, Zeke has written a forthcoming book called The Truth About Immigration. And he is going to quiz you on some immigration facts and statistics. Does that sound okay?

HERNANDEZ: All right, Lindsay, here it goes. As of 2021, about 8 percent of Americans lived in poverty. What percentage of immigrants lived in poverty in the United States?  

LINDSAY PRIGGE: Oh, I would say it’s significantly greater than 8 percent. Maybe it’s 45? 

HERNANDEZ: Turns out the correct answer is 13 percent. So you were right that it’s higher than 8 percent. But you significantly overestimated. 

DUBNER: Hey, Zeke. I don’t blame Lindsay for overestimating. I think the way that immigration is in the news would lead most people to do that. I am curious what most people answer when you ask that question, was Lindsay about average in that regard?  

HERNANDEZ: I would say that’s still a bit high.  

DUBNER: So you’re saying Lindsay is slightly more wrong than even the average person?  

HERNANDEZ: In this particular case, yes. I’m sure that that’s not true for all aspects of her life. 

DUBNER: All right, Lindsay, do you want to put Brian on and we’ll see how wrong he can be on the next one? 

LINDSAY PRIGGE: Sure, he can take the next one. 


HERNANDEZ: All right, Brian. Immigrants are responsible for what percentage of all patents in the United States? 

BRIAN PRIGGE: Now, are you calling that named inventor or is that just responsible in general?  

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, responsible in general. So it could be named inventor, or it could be patents that others file because they work with immigrants.  

DUBNER: Brian, the fact that you asked that question makes me wonder if you are responsible for any patents. 

BRIAN PRIGGE: I do have one pending.  

DUBNER: Congratulations. What is your patent pending? 

BRIAN PRIGGE: It is in pharmacy management software in clawback management from PBMs.  

DUBNER: This would be software that’s used by the PBMs, the pharmacy benefit managers, or by the independent pharmacies? 

BRIAN PRIGGE: Used by the independent pharmacy to defend against PBM clawbacks. 

DUBNER: I like it, Brian. Okay. What’s your guess then?  

BRIAN PRIGGE: I’m going to say 40 percent.  

HERNANDEZ: Brian, that is a very good guess. The correct answer is 36 percent. And let me break that down a little bit, since you asked a sophisticated question. So, in 23 percent of patents, immigrants are the inventors on record, and the additional 13 percent that gets us to 36 is that without immigrants, native-born inventors would file fewer patents. 

DUBNER: Brian, were you born in this country, or did you immigrate to this country?  

BRIAN PRIGGE: I was born in this country.  

DUBNER: Who in your family immigrated, how many generations back?  

BRIAN PRIGGE: During the Revolutionary War. 

DUBNER: So, Zeke, do you think that if Brian were a much more recent immigrant or maybe if just his parents’ generation immigrated, that he would have more than one lousy patent pending?  

HERNANDEZ: More than — obviously, that’s what the statistics say. You know, I think statistically, if you had, you know, probably the level of education that you have or you were in an inventive field, it’s probable that you would.  

DUBNER: Hey, Brian, I am just curious, you gave us either a remarkably good guess or you kind of had a good feel for this, or you just figured out what was about right. Which of those is most true?  

BRIAN PRIGGE: It was a guess based on working in tech, and knowing the number of H-1B visas that are issued, and then figuring there was probably a correlation there. 

DUBNER: Okay, so, Brian, you did better than your wife. At least on the first question, but I think we need to have another round. So would you put Lindsay back on, please?  


LINDSAY PRIGGE: All right.  

DUBNER: All right. Lindsay, you witnessed that, I know. You have a little bit of a hole to dig out of, but I know you can. So Zeke, let’s have another question for Lindsay.  

HERNANDEZ: All right. Lindsay. So, on any given year, the U.S. gives a lot of green cards. What percentage of those green cards, or permanent resident cards, go to immigrants that are here to reunite with their families — that is, family-based immigrants. And that would be as opposed to employment-based, humanitarian, or other kinds of green cards. I’m looking specifically for what percentage goes to family-based migrants. 

LINDSAY PRIGGE: For family-based, I would probably say that it is easier to come in if you have somebody that is here and can sponsor you. So, oh man — I’m gonna go half, 50/50.  

HERNANDEZ: 50/50? It’s a pretty good guess. The right answer is two-thirds, 66 percent go to family-based migrants. But your reasoning is very good reasoning. It’s not uncommon that people underestimate that number, because I think the average person thinks that the U.S. gives a lot more work-related green cards than it actually does. But our law very, very strongly favors family reunification since 1965. And so we don’t have as big of an employment-based program as other countries do. 

DUBNER: So, Lindsay you definitely did a lot better on question number two than question number one. We need to put Brian back on and see and see if we can equilibrate here. He’s either going to emerge as the total family champion or you will have pulled him down from the pedestal.   

LINDSAY PRIGGE: It’ll give us something to discuss over our anniversary dinner this evening.  

DUBNER: Congratulations!

HERNANDEZ: Congratulations. 

LINDSAY PRIGGE: Thank you.  

DUBNER: What number? 


DUBNER: What is the material for 13? It’s probably like a funhouse mirror or something terrible.  

LINDSAY PRIGGE: Oh, man. I don’t actually know.  

DUBNER: Oh, I’ll tell you. It’s lace. Does that give you any ideas?

LINDSAY PRIGGE: Maybe you should’ve looked that one up, dear.  

DUBNER: Have you received a gift yet?  

LINDSAY PRIGGE: We like to gift each other more the gift of time. And so we made time for each other tonight, and we’re going to go be childless and grab a bite to eat.  

DUBNER: I expect Brian to be wearing lace, that’s all I’m saying. All right, let’s get one more question for Brian, Zeke, please.  

HERNANDEZ: All right, Brian, here we go. So about 100 years ago, most immigrants into the U.S. came from Europe, especially southern and Eastern Europe. Today, most of them come from Latin America and Asia. So here’s a question. Today’s immigrants, are they assimilating at a slower rate, at a faster rate, or at the same rate as immigrants from 100 years ago?

BRIAN PRIGGE: I’m going to say that this is where the rosy painting of history would lead me to say slower, but I think the answer is actually they’re assimilating faster than 100 years ago.  

HERNANDEZ: It turns out the answer is actually at the same rate. And that means that when you look at the rate at which immigrants, in terms of their income, catch up with native workers, or the rate at which they adopt cultural values, and there’s very various ways to measure that, the rate is the same today as it ever was.  

DUBNER: But, Brian, I’m really curious about the way that you gave your answer and the way you thought it through. Can you just talk a little bit more about your impression of the history of U.S. immigration 100 years ago?

BRIAN PRIGGE: Yes, I think there’s a whole lot fewer places where you would see a large concentration of immigrants from the same place. If you look at Chicago, there was a high population of Polish immigrants. South Boston had a high population of Irish immigrants. I just don’t see those sort of centers of immigration like you would have years ago. 

DUBNER: Zeke, is that the case, or is Brian just not seeing these newer centers of immigrant populations?  

HERNANDEZ: I don’t know that we have great measures to compare exactly. What we do know is that both in the past, as today, immigrants often enter and settle into ethnic enclaves. So think of a Chinese immigrant settling near Chinatown. And within about 20 years, you find them in neighborhoods that have half the ethnic concentration as they did when they arrived. There’s reasons why people settle in ethnic enclaves to begin with. And it’s not just because they want to be around people who might speak the same language. It’s also because they tend to be cheaper. And as they move up the income ladder, they can afford to move to, say, a slightly more expensive suburb or buy their first home. And then by the second generation, the children are well integrated. 

DUBNER: Right, right. Brian and Lindsay, thank you both so much. And I hope you have a great anniversary dinner. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll send you some Freakonomics Radio stuff okay? 

LINDSAY PRIGGE: You’re welcome. Thank you for having us.  

DUBNER: Cheers. Bye. 

We’ll have more of our immigration quiz right after this break. I’m Stephen Dubner, and this is Freakonomics Radio.

*      *      *

DUBNER: Hi, Fay.  

Fay DUFTLER: Yes, hi. 

DUBNER: Hey, this is Stephen Dubner. Nice to meet you. 

DUFTLER: Nice to meet you.  

DUBNER: Can you just tell us your full name and where you live?  

DUFTLER: Sure. My name is Fay Duftler, and I live on Long Island. 

DUBNER: And what do you do? 

DUFTLER: I’m an associate director at an art gallery in the city.

DUBNER: Do you consider yourself an expert at all on immigration to the United States? 

DUFTLER: Not at all.  

DUBNER: Perfect. Okay. Perfect for our quiz. So we’ve got on the other line Zeke Hernandez, who’s a business professor at the Wharton School at Penn, and he’s the author of a forthcoming book called The Truth About Immigration. And Zeke is going to ask you some questions and we’ll see how much you know. Does that sound okay?

DUFTLER: Okay. Let’s go.  

DUBNER: And let me just say, whether you answer beautifully or horribly, you’re still going to get some Freakonomics Radio swag.  

DUFTLER: Awesome. I’m a little less nervous now.  

DUBNER: Okay. Good.  

HERNANDEZ: Hey, Fay. Nice to meet you. Here comes the first question. What percentage of the U.S. workforce is composed of immigrants?  

DUFTLER: Composed of immigrants. Hm. I’m going to say 30 percent.  

HERNANDEZ: 30 percent. That guess is on the high side. The right answer is 18 percent. You kind of went high, perhaps because in New York, immigrants are a higher percentage of the population or something? I’m just wondering. 

DUFTLER: Also, I was thinking, tech, and I know that there are a lot of international employees doing that kind of work, and then I was also thinking about, like, not illegal immigration. Well, yes, illegal immigration, like, farm workers and things like that, which I don’t know if that would even be counted as part of this. 

HERNANDEZ: It is, it is. 

DUBNER: So Zeke, I’m very much with Fay. I — I would have given a higher answer as well. And I do think it’s because Fay, you and I live in New York, which is — I mean, Zeke, can you just describe how anomalous a place like New York is in terms of immigration compared to the rest of the U.S.?  

HERNANDEZ: So, 35 to 36 percent of New York’s population is foreign-born, which is quite a bit above the national average of 14 percent.

DUBNER: Nice. Okay, let’s give Fay another question.  

HERNANDEZ: So, Fay you just mentioned undocumented immigrants. So I’m going to ask you a question about that. How long do you think that the average undocumented immigrant has lived in the United States?   

DUFTLER: Hm. I’ll say ten years.  

HERNANDEZ: Wow. Very good guess. Very good guess. Spot on. It’s a little — it’s somewhere between 10 and 14.  

DUBNER: Fay, can you walk us through your thought process there? Are you just innately brilliant?  

DUFTLER: No, not at all. What my thought process was — when I think about people I know who have used undocumented workers — not me, like, but nannies or people who work landscaping, or construction, you know, they’re here for a while. It’s not like they come and go. Maybe it would be different if it was, you know, picking fruits and vegetables. I don’t know that landscape at all, but, you know, I know that people have jobs and stay here and do those jobs for a very long time, and it’s not easy to get home. So they often stay here, obviously, because they can’t go back and forth.  

DUBNER: Good reasoning. Okay, Zeke, one more question for Fay. 

HERNANDEZ: So the average native-born American receives about $8,000 in welfare benefits. What is that number for immigrants in your estimation? 

DUFTLER: Oh, I bet it’s low. I bet it’s like — 

DUBNER: Why do you think it’s low? 

DUFTLER: Because — now, this might be falling into some sort of stereotype, but I think of immigrants as, like, extremely hard-working.  

DUBNER: Is that reckoning based to some degree on having seen Hamilton, I have to ask?  

DUFTLER: No. No, it’s because, you know, it’s like anecdotal, like chatter that people say. And some of it’s not always from the kind of people like, I — I don’t necessarily want to, you know, there’s a lot of racism, but there are people who will say, you know, there are certain kinds of people that work really well in kitchens because they work really hard because they have nothing. They’re hungry, not hungry literally hungry, but they’re like, you know, hungry to work. They care. You know, versus other people who are lazy. And so, like, this is the kind of thing that sort of gets stuck in my consciousness, whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. But I think anyone who comes to this country to make it, I think of them as being hard-working. So I would think that they probably even if they had to go, you know, on assistance, it wouldn’t be for very long. And I don’t exactly know, but I’ll say $3,000.

HERNANDEZ: So, you know, very good reasoning. The number is $6,000. So it’s a little bit higher than you thought. The number would be much lower for undocumented immigrants because for one, they’re not eligible for many benefits.

DUBNER: But directionally, Fay’s answer was right. And her reasoning, Zeke, I thought was really good. Fay, I’m just curious, when you form an opinion or an assessment of a given situation like you just did, and you put a number on it, I’m curious what you think are the sources for that assessment? In other words, would it be mostly personal experience and observation, or anecdote, or would it be from consuming media, and so on?  

DUFTLER: Oh boy. I mean, who’s to say. It’s so hard to figure out where the streams are coming from. But it’s true, maybe all of these things, I don’t know. I know that there are people who can be — I mean, this is terrible, but can be abusive to undocumented workers that work for them because, you know, they have the leverage. But also it’s just there is this theory that people who are, again, who are immigrants just work really hard to get where they are. Now, that also could be because, like my family was an immigrant at one point. And I know, you know, how they suffered and what they had to do. And a lot of people I know — I’m Jewish. So it’s like, you know the stories of those people and what they did when they came here and how, you know, they didn’t want to be seen as dependents. They wanted to be independent. I guess that’s probably part of it too.

DUBNER: Fay, thank you so much. It was great to speak with you. And thanks for listening to the show. 

DUFTLER: Thank you. I love the show. I’m so excited that you called. And I got a chance to play this quiz and learn a lot too, so thanks. 

DUBNER: Let me ask you one last question, Zeke. You know a lot about immigration to the U.S. You are an immigrant to the U.S. We told your story in our radio series. I’m curious whether these conversations today with listeners taught you anything or informed the way you may think further about studying immigration.  

HERNANDEZ: That’s a good question. Thanks for asking me that. I think that they taught me that I need to not just understand what people think, but why they think what they think. And I think that they also taught me that I need to understand people’s backgrounds more. Because as we interacted with the listeners and you asked, well, what do you do, or they revealed things about their parents, or their family experience, or where they work, that was also very revealing. I think I need to do a lot more than that — more than just focus on facts. As a professor, as a researcher, I’m in love with facts and figures and evidence and I and I think rightly so. But perhaps I’m not enough in love with how we get there. I’m in love with, the scientific method, but perhaps I’m not in love enough with trying to understand how different people from different walks of life reason through these issues.  

DUBNER: That’s a really interesting answer. And it makes me think back to an answer you gave in one of the episodes in our series, when I asked you whether your immigrant experience has influenced the way that you think about immigration. And you basically said, well, it’s inevitable that everyone’s experience will inform them to some degree, but that you have worked incredibly hard to be disinterested and dispassionate about your pursuit of the data. It sounds like you are not backing away from that, but adding something to that now. Which is that as much as data and empirical thinking can do, that people are people, and it’s really hard to understand people often, but extremely important to do so.  

HERNANDEZ: Absolutely. Yeah, I think I need to go and in my own way reflect and think about how I need to incorporate that. Because when I reflect on my own experience, even though I am an immigrant, I didn’t want to emigrate because I had negative stereotypes about immigrants. When I came here to the U.S., I made a very sharp distinction between me as an educated immigrant who was coming here on a student visa, and, you know, all those other immigrants that I thought, you know, I wasn’t like, who, perhaps, don’t come here for education or might cross the border without authorization. But as I started interacting with undocumented immigrants in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, whether it’s my barber who I tell a long story about him in the book, or others, through, you know, church, family experiences, community, I started realizing it’s just much more complicated. I had a very simplistic understanding of who these people are, why they made the decision to cross the border illegally. And so that led me to go to the data and think, okay, what are these immigrants doing? Who are they? And why do we have such a permanent population of undocumented immigrants? And so, I guess this is my very long way to say that my own journey required decomposing the why of how I think about this topic. And so perhaps I’ve underestimated the need to do that myself with others, and be more patient with them.

That, again, was Zeke Hernandez. Thanks to him, and everyone who took Zeke’s quiz today. And this concludes our series, “The True Story of America’s Supremely Messed-Up Immigration System.”

*      *      *

Freakonomics Radio is produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was produced by Alina Kulman and Zack Lapinski. Our staff also includes Augusta Chapman, Eleanor Osborne, Elsa Hernandez, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Jasmin Klinger, Jeremy Johnston, Julie Kanfer, Lyric Bowditch, Morgan Levey, Neal Carruth, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Sarah Lilley. Our theme song is “Mr. Fortune,” by the Hitchhikers; the rest of the music this week was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow Freakonomics Radio on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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  • Zeke Hernandez, professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.



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