What Drove the Mass Migrations from Europe in the Late Nineteenth Century?

Timothy J. Hatton, Jeffrey G. Williamson

NBER Historical Working Paper No. 43
Issued in November 1992
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

This paper examines the determinants of overseas mass migration from eleven European countries in the late 19th century. They typically passed through something like a half-century life-cycle: a steep rise in emigration rates from low levels in preindustrial decades, followed by a plateau of very high emigration, and then a subsequent fall during more mature stages of industrialization. Using a new real wage data base, we are able to isolate the impact of economic and demographic forces (associated with the industrial revolution) on this emigration experience. The steep rise in emigration rates was driven mainly by fertility boom and infant mortality decline, events early in the demographic transition which, with a two decade lag, tended to glut the age cohort most responsive to wage gaps between the labor-abundant Old World and the labor-scarce New World. The steep fall in emigration rates was driven mainly by the forces of convergence and catching up -- more rapid real wage growth at home encouraged an increasingly large share to stay at home. Since we show elsewhere that these mass migrations contributed significantly to an impressive late 19th century economic convergence, they can be viewed as an important part of a long run equilibrium adjustment manifested by an evolving global labor market.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/h0043

Published: Population and Development Review, vol. 20, no. 3 (Sept 1994): 1-27.

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