Immigrants and Industrialization in the American Economy, 1880 to 1920
Charles Hirschman, University of Washington
Elizabeth A. Mogford, University of Washington
In this study, we address the theoretical and empirical debate over the impact of mass immigration on industrialization from 1880 to 1920. In particular, we measure the contribution of immigrants and their descendants to the growth and industrial transformation of the American labor force. We first compare the immigrant (both first and second generation) share of each industrial sector in 1880 and 1920 and then measure the immigrant share of the growth of each sector from 1880 to 1920. We also formulate a simple model to test the economic responsiveness of domestic labor to the growth of the industrial economy that compares actual growth with expected growth across sectors. The results show that both the new immigrants (first and second generation in 1920) and the descendants of immigrants in 1880 constitute the overwhelming majority of manufacturing workers in 1920. The descendents of the 1880 native born population were over-represented in social and business services in 1920.