The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
The Immigration Debate: Studies on the Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration
labor is so large that it must have played some role in the declining wages of the less skilled.
Virtually all existing empirical research on the labor market effects on immigration has dealt with men. Whether the question concerned life-cycle or generational assimilation of the immigrants themselves or the impacts of immigrants on native-born workers, with very few exceptions, only male immigrants and male native-born workers have been studied. Because the numbers of male and female immigrants into the United States are roughly the same, this is a strange situation indeed. To begin to retrieve some balance, our panel asked Edward Funkhouser and Stephen J. Trejo to conduct a parallel analysis for immigrant women. Their chapter, "Labor Market Outcomes of Female Immigrants in the United States," does just that.
Using micro data from the 1980 and 1990 U.S. decennial censuses, these researchers examine employment and wage patterns for immigrant women. In the first generation, most immigrants arrive with, live near, and marry people from their own background. Consequently, the broad trends in the attributes of female immigrants should closely parallel those of male immigrants. For example, similar to their male counterparts, female immigrants are less educated than native-born American women, a gap that has been growing over time.
Funkhouser and Trejo also examine the question of economic assimilation, an issue that has attracted a considerable amount of research interest for male immigrants. One special factor that must be considered when addressing these questions for women is that their comparison group —native-born American women—has also been undergoing significant structural labor market changes in recent decades. Labor force participation rates have increased dramatically among women in the past three decades and female wages have risen steadily, even relative to those of men. Therefore, immigrant women are being compared with a moving target—native-born American women—whose own labor market position is steadily improving.
Given the rapid rise in employment rates among native-born women, it is not surprising that the employment gap (compared with the native born) of new cohorts of female immigrants has been steadily rising. However, after an initial period of adjustment in the United States, Funkhouser and Trejo report that this employment gap diminishes significantly. The big unknown in these patterns concerns the employment rates of immigrant women before they came to America. Without knowing that crucial piece of information, we do not know whether the event of immigration to the United States lowered or raised the probability of their employment.
A very similar pattern exists with wages—widening wage gaps as new cohorts arrive and a diminution of those wage gaps with native-born women over time. These wage patterns closely mirror those found by numerous authors for men. The major exception to finding a significant amount of wage assimilation involves both Mexican men and Mexican women. Unlike the case for men, the