Doctoral Dissertation Research in Economics: An Economic History of Hispanic Migration and Assimilation: Puerto Ricans in the US
Project Outcomes Statement
Immigration played an important role in the economic development of the Americas. A large literature in economic history studies immigration to the primary receiving countries, but immigration to less developed countries is effectively absent from research in economics. Although historically the volume of immigration to less developed countries was comparatively small, the impact of immigration there may have been large. Additionally, nearly half of international migration in the present occurs between developing countries, and historical context enriches our understanding of these flows. A lack of data inhibits research on immigration to less developed countries, historical or modern.
This project sheds light on immigration to less developed countries by introducing a uniquely large and detailed microdata set compiled by digitizing all residency permit applications submitted to the Dominican Republic from 1940 to 1954. In contrast to the primary receiving countries, the Dominican Republic attracted immigrants predominately from neighboring Haiti and nearby islands in the Caribbean rather than from Europe. The foreign-born population of the Dominican Republic at mid-century closely matches that of the rest of the Spanish circum-Caribbean in terms of volume, share of the total population, and percentages coming from the Americas and bordering countries, respectively. In this sense, studying immigration to the Dominican Republic contributes to our understanding of immigration to the region more generally, helping to generate a new economic history of migration to and within the Caribbean basin.
Collectively, the permit applications constitute a census of immigrants at mid-century. The permits include applicants' name, age, sex, country of origin, nationality, race, place of departure, date of entry, port of entry, physical features, occupation, and residence within the Dominican Republic. Many documents contain values of the applicants' assets and earnings.
Several features of the data will allow for an unprecedented look at Caribbean migration. Annual net migration rates (aggregate and by nationality) can be computed and analyzed to assess the determinants of migration. Changing patterns in migration self-selection (i.e., differences between migrants and non-migrants in terms of skills or other characteristics) over time and by nationality can be assessed using height, a summary measure of health, in relation to existing sources of height data. Information on residence within the Dominican Republic can be used to illustrate the growth over time of ethnic enclaves, or areas with concentrated populations of the same nationality, which may affect both self-selection and assimilation. Data on Haitian immigrants' origins within Haiti offer a rare opportunity to observe the development of migration networks. Eventually, the self-selection and economic success of Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and others can be compared to data on immigrants from the same source country but that instead migrated to New York, Miami, and elsewhere, allowing for an understanding of who chose to go where and why and how these choices affected economic success. Tracking immigrants across renewal applications over time will allow for an analysis of migrants’ movement between jobs and locations within the Dominican Republic to better understand whether efforts to restrict Haitians' employment opportunities were successful and how these affected later outcomes.
Data cleaning and analysis are ongoing. The following preliminary findings are based on a subset of previously digitized data. First, migration rates to the Dominican Republic from the Americas are explained primarily by distance from the Dominican Republic; those located closer to the Dominican Republic are more likely to emigrate there. In contrast, average living standards as measured by GDP per capita do not strongly predict migration rates. Second, immigration was not driven by a large, general demand for labor but, instead, a narrow set of employment opportunities mostly in the burgeoning sugar industry. Moreover, there are large differences in the national origins of the labor forces of sugar mills, suggesting the importance of recruiting and/or migrant networks and is inconsistent with individual, uncoordinated responses to economic opportunity. Sex ratios are male-skewed for all nationalities but especially so for Asians, West Indians, Haitians, and refugees from Spain and Central Europe. Sex ratios are significantly more male-skewed than suggested by the 1950 Dominican Census. Likewise, refugees and workers from Haiti and the West Indies are underrepresented in the census relative to the residency permits. Taken together, these findings highlight the limitations of existing data sources and indicate that much of the migration was seasonal or, in the case of refugees, temporary.
Supported by the National Science Foundation grant #1824349
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