Life after crossing the border: Assimilation during the first Mexican mass migration

with Ed Kosack and Zach Ward

Explorations in Economic History. Forthcoming.

The first mass migration of Mexicans to the United States occurred in the early twentieth century: from smaller pre-Revolutionary flows in the 1900s, to hundreds of thousands during the violent 1910s, to the boom of the 1920s, and then the bust and deportations/repatriations of the 1930s. Using a new linked sample of males, we find that the average Mexican immigrant held a lower percentile rank, based on imputed earnings, than US-born whites near arrival. Further, Mexicans fell behind in the following decade. Mexican assimilation was not uniquely slow since we also find that the average Italian immigrant fell behind at a similar rate. Yet, conditional on geography, human capital, and initial percentile rank, Mexicans had a slower growth rate than both US-born whites and Italians. Mexican assimilation was also remarkably constant throughout various shocks, such as violence in Mexico, migration policy change in the United States, and the Great Depression. We argue that Mexican-specific structural barriers help to explain why Mexican progress was slow and similar across this tumultuous period.

Published version  |  Final draft  |  Data and replication files