Anti-immigration in early 20th C mainly cultural in nature

Marco Tabellini of Harvard Business School has studied European immigration to U.S. cities between 1910 and 1930 “I find that immigration triggered hostile political reactions, such as the election of more conservative legislators, higher support for anti-immigration legislation, and lower redistribution. Exploring the causes of natives’ backlash, I [find] that immigration increased natives’ employment, spurred industrial production, and did not generate losses even among natives working in highly exposed sectors. These findings suggest that opposition to immigration was unlikely to have economic roots. Instead, I provide evidence that natives’ political discontent was increasing in the cultural differences between immigrants and natives.

When cultural differences between immigrants and natives are large, opposition to immigration can arise even if immigrants are economically beneficial and do not create economic losers among natives. Hence, promoting the cultural assimilation of immigrants and reducing the (actual or perceived) distance between immigrants and natives may be at least as important as addressing the potential economic effects of immigration.”

Drawn from ‘Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration’ by Marco Tabellini, published in the Review of Economic Studies in January 2020.

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