(Apologies for repeating a question I tweeted at Matt Yglesias)

Am I correct in thinking that the comparison in Dr. Boustan's study (between immigrant and native families earning at the 25th percentile) doesn't control for parental years of schooling? Unless there's some methodological obstacle to getting that data, it seems to me that's pretty important.

Many educated immigrants come to the US and end up earning in the bottom quartile because of language issues or the inability to transfer their qualifications. If their kids are the ones pulling up average incomes in the first-generation group, then there's no evidence that immigrants self-select for *other* qualities that will make their children succeed.

So if that's all that her research shows, you can't reject the null hypothesis: that this is just variation in inherited intelligence, together with the initially depressed status of middle-class families who lose social capital when they emigrate.

But if Boustan has controlled for parental education and still found that immigrants' children are more successful, it does support her argument that education-based screening of immigrants isn't very important. So one would want to know whether she did.

I think the strong country-of-origin effects might indicate that she hasn't. The outperformance of Mexican immigrants' children--mean earnings at the 50th percentile vs 46th for natives' kids--may or may not be statistically significant but in any case it's very small.

For Asian families the gaps she found were larger. That's what you'd expect if those immigrant groups include a higher percentage of educated professionals than Mexicans, some of whom nevertheless end up in low-paid jobs.

But it wouldn't be right to assume that, because I haven't seen the study. Can Noah clarify?

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That is correct; the study doesn't control for parental education. And yes, many educated people start out poor in America because they lack language skills and connections and local qualifications. And education-based screening does tend to select immigrants who do much better economically, regardless of mobility. But the effect on kids and grandkids is less clear, because of data limitations.

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Irrelevant. The USA does not require immigrants to have certain education levels. (Canada does.) Div. Lottery winners are required to have a high school diploma (or work experience). The people who have degrees and start out here lower than back home, are Lottery winners and refugees. Those are relatively small groups.

Non-immigrants H-1B, O1, L-1, are of course rather well-educated as they come on work permits. The only workers allowed in with mostly skills, not education, are the non-immigrant H-2A AG workers and maybe some E-visa holders.

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Actually there's another thing I'm not clear about.

The control group in Boustan's study was made up of native-born parents earning at the 25th percentile: lower-working-class people, in other words. She found that the mean earnings of their children (or maybe the median?) ended up at the 46th percentile one generation later.

In other words: the distribution of the children's social status was almost completely random. They were only slightly more likely to be below the US average than above it.

So being raised in a low-income household apparently has almost no effect on your life chances. The *combined* effect of environmental disadvantages and, perhaps, genetic ones is nearly zero.

Nobody thinks this is true of American society. Not liberals who think social injustice matters, not conservatives who think IQ matters, not anybody.

Am I misunderstanding her findings about the control group?

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The question isn’t whether immigration is good, but rather what kind of immigrants we want for the benefit of our workforce, culture and future citizenry and how do we manage the process to gain these objectives? The current policy, which is to favor immigrants who can most easily walk across the border because one political party believes this is in their interests, is not ideal.

The last thing we want is a monoculture among immigrants. This impedes integration (as Spanish has become the lingua Franca of workplaces everywhere) and is the antithesis of diversity. Why should we favor someone from Mexico over Argentina, Brazil, the Bahamas, Nigeria, Philippines, Vietnam or Nigeria? We shouldn’t. People from all of those countries and continents want to come to the US. And workplaces with immigrants from a range of cultures and languages are perhaps sooner to default to English as a common language and American as a common identity (in time).

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As Boustan's research (and many many others' research) shows, Spanish is not becoming an alternative native language in the U.S. Families give up Spanish over the generations.

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I wonder about that. I lived in the CA Central Valley where Hispanic is the second language. Some people already do not get a job, despite being educated, if they do not speak Hispanic. A number of people I knew lost his/her job for that reason. English is not the official language of the US.

Children of immigrants will become fluent in English thanks to their education. I often read that immigrant children are still bi-lingual, but that the grand-children are English-only. Unless there is a reason to continue to speak the original language, e.g. doing business there.

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Is that your best argument for importing the plurality of lesser educated immigrants from one country? Who would argue that immigrants don’t speak native English “over the generations”? Talk about a straw man

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I was referring to first and second generation assimilation and our workplaces. I grew up in a place with many second and third generation immigrants from Puerto Rico, DR, Cuba. One of our family friends (Rodriguez) was offered a supervisory job…..it was rescinded when they found out she couldn’t speak Spanish (all the workers were Spanish-speaking immigrants). They will assimilate (and learn English faster) if their boss is English speaking and their co-workers don’t all speak Spanish. Melting pot means many cultures

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The US immigration system is based on Family Reunion - about 650-700,000 people come in that way every year. There is no policy "to favor immigrants who can most easily walk across the border". However, the moment government agencies start to talk about bringing down the incentive for illegal immigration by stricter enforcing E-Verify and doing raids in workplaces, employers and developers start to protest vehemently. They tell the politicians that they need these cheap workers to harvest the fields, pick fruits in the orchards, milk the cows, work the meat-making facilities - otherwise called slaughterhouses. They say the H-2A program for AG workers is insufficient.

Family Reunion means that immigrants can come all over the world as long as they have a US Citizen Family Member (some cases Permanent Resident). For each country there is a limit on the number of immigrants - but Immediate Relatives (parents, spouses, minor children) are excluded from that, for them there are unlimited visas available.

The countries you mention are not favored in some way. It is just the more immigrants entered from a country, after becoming US citizens, they can bring in more family-member-immigrants from their homeland (within the limits given).

In recent years workers are being brought in through immigration but the same co.'s are also out-sourcing to workers in India. People in that country speaks (also) English.

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Ms. Boustan is incorrect about the number of H-1B visas that can be issued. They are not the same as in the early 90ies. The number of visas was originally capped at 65,000. Around 2000 the employers used Y2K as an argument and the number of H-1B's went up to 195,000 for three years in a row, to revert afterwards to 65,000 again. In 2005 Congress added 20,000 H-1B visas for applicants with advanced degrees (M.S./Ph.D) Furthermore non-profit educational institutions, research labs, etc. can apply for H-1B visas outside of the cap. Which means another about 40-50-60,000 (?) H-1B visas issued every year. Employers now go around the H-1B cap: if they have a location abroad as well as in the US, they hire a worker and after a year sent him/her to the US on an L-1 visa.

It would have been nice if Ms.Boustan had mentioned the problems with H-1B visas: the H-4, a visa that is issued to the wife of the worker. This visa does not allow to work or to (meaningful) volunteer. Furthermore, to be allowed to immigrate an H-1B needs a permanent visa, the Green Card. The number of visas issued every year to workers is 140,000. But that number includes women and children. So actually the number of workers allowed in is about 70,000. Did you see all the numbers I gave earlier ? That was workers, in those numbers women and children were not included. This all has lead to enormous waiting times, especially for H-1B's from India, as there is also a per country limit. Many of them are waiting over 15 years already. Violence in Indian families is by now a known problem, especially in areas where it is hard to exist on one income only. An H-4 woman cannot call for help, if the husband is arrested he will lose the H-1B and both have to go back to India.

Furthermore the number of petitions filed, exceeds the number of capped H-1B's considerably. There is now a lottery, with a chance of 1 in 3. How on earth is that a way to find a highly qualified person, the right man for the job ?

About 85% of capped H-1B's are issued to males, no employer in his right mind "wastes" an under-the-cap petition on a female.

Since Indian H-1B/H-4 couples are now in the US for such a long time, any children they brought can turn 21 before the visa is issued. That means the child has to leave the US. For children brought legally, there is no DACA exception possible.

I would so have liked it if Ms. Boustan, or another immigration expert, had talked about these issues. But no. Currently there is a shortage of workers in the US. I am asking - politician, experts - why then H-4 are not allowed to work ? No answer. We were unwanted, we are unwanted, we stay unwanted. No Country of Opportunity for us. We live in the Republic of Gilead.

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Thanks, those were several points I'd never considered, and the piece was an interesting read.

That said, it didn't address my biggest concern with immigration, which is house prices. In my country, it is almost infeasible for a couple to buy a house in reasonable proximity to work, unless they are on a substantially higher than average salary. Prices only continue to rise. The only explanation I can see is increased demand, which can only come from population growth, which comes from immigration. Almost all the money I ever make will go to a house, so this iseems


In Iexcchange for house prices going through the roof, what am I getting from mass immigration? Australia has one tenth of America's population, yet our standard of living is no lower, so I don't seem to be benefiting economically in the grand scheme of things. I suspect I am getting purely screwed, and this irks me.

Naturally, the same concern applies regardless of immigrant ethnicity, and I'd still oppose it on this ground even if all were white.

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I think this is a terrific interview. Thank you, Noah. I was unaware of Professor Boustan's work and am now eager to read more of it.

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It is ridiculous to have this conversation without using two important letters: IQ.

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No, it really isn't.

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Your comment is my comment's TL:DR

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Jul 17, 2022·edited Jul 17, 2022

Flynn effect...

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The Flynn effect is a secular, across-the-board increase in people's *absolute* performance on cognitive tests. There couldn't be an across-the-board increase in people's *relative* performance on any measure, because it's logically impossible.

The more I think about this paper, the weirder it gets. Dr. Boustan seems to be trying to refute an idea that goes something like this: "Immigration is bad because poor immigrants are different from poor Americans. Poor Americans have a good chance of climbing the ladder, whereas poor immigrants stay stuck at the bottom."

But the way in which her research refutes this straw man is by finding very high levels of social mobility among both groups. I don't understand.

If the median child of a poor family (or a rich family) ends up earning at the 50th percentile of the income distribution, there's literally as much mobility as there could possibly be--unless we imagine a weird kind of ultra-mobility that might result from having constant social revolutions, with the rich and the poor trading places once each generation.

Yet the 50th-percentile outcome--zero effect from an impoverished upbringing--is exactly what she found for Mexican immigrants' children. And she came close to finding it in the control group too.

I'll be very embarrassed if I've misunderstood the claim in this paper. But don't you think the methodology deserves a closer look?

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The point that I was hinting at is that the Flynn effect shows that raw scores on IQ tests are affected by cultural factors, so the correlation between parents' IQ and (grand)children's IQ could be lower for immigrants than natives.

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Could be!

But I'm imposing a total and complete shutdown of my own comments on this piece until Noah can figure out what the hell is going on.

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I wonder whether there isn't a confusion here between 50th percentile and average. The absolute household income difference between 25th and 50th percentiles is far smaller than the difference between the 50th and 75th (the figures I find for the three online are $33K, $67K, $122K . . . it's $60K at the 46th percentile). So being at the 50th percentile doesn't actually reflect any sort of "random" distribution overall, as you suggested in your earlier comment. (The 99th percentile floor is $504K, much more distant from the 50th percentile than $0.)

I think part of the reason for the findings is that there is an inherent upward churn for residents, between any two points of time A and B. This is because there is always a stream of new immigrants without advantages entering the country, who are over-represented in the bottom quartile, pushing the resident members of the second quartile up, and that stream is significantly larger than the stream of advantaged immigrants. Second-generation immigrants could be expected to catch that wave effect more strongly, since they have the advantage over their parents of newly added language competence, which is a generational advantage the native-born cohort doesn't have.

Another factor may be a type of social regression towards the mean. At both extremes of the income range there is more opportunity for children to over-/under-perform their parents. To see the 25-46 percentile rise in the lower bracket as exceptional, we'd want to know if there is a corresponding fall of any degree at the upper bracket end.

I think IQ is a blind alley here, unless you believe that IQ is tied to race, and that, in this case, immigrant children are racially more advantaged. (Given the demographics, you'd also have to hold that "Hispanic" is actually a race, in that sense.) I don't see how a hereditary notion of IQ, absent a racial theory, can inform an answer. If you hold, as Doug suggests, that the Flynn effect rests on evidence that IQ involves both innate and cultural features, then Tamritz really isn't correct: IQ information will add nothing an analysis that overwhelmingly involves elements of cultural assimilation. (I agree with Doug on this.)

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In my opinion this research has limited value. Immigrants are not a homogenous group. There are many different categories - who of them is she comparing to whom ? You can go on about IQ, Flynn effects, whatever, you have no idea who you are talking about, who you are comparing. In my book that is not proper scientific research, that would at best be investigative journalism.

More interesting would be to see how over the years Diversity Lottery Winners succeed - or not - in building a life here.

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Ms. Uiterdijk, You seem to be conflating the research of Professor Boustan, which does not "go on about IQ, Flynn effects, whatever," with the blog post comments of Tamritz, Doug S.--who introduced these terms here--and those of us who responded to their comments. Tamritz, Doug, posters like me, are not participating in "this research"; we are bloviating online according to our limited lay knowledge.

I think you'd need at least to reference what Boustan says in her interview with Noah to illustrate why you've decided we should dismiss her research. And I think if you look into "Streets of Gold," you'll find that Boustan's research is careful to maintain distinctions between various types of immigrants while also exploring for general commonalities.

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"I was wondering how much of it is due to differences in how selective our system is"...

That's the key question, isn't it? I'm still shocked at the discussion we had re. Afghans being 10x less criminal than the native US citizen but 5x more criminal than the native German citizen. Even if you adjust for the US being 5x more violent than Germany, it's a staggering difference in experience with immigration.

And maybe a bit of that is due to natives being more welcoming in the US than Germany but it's got to be down mostly to selection effects.

Which is the same issue we got with education. If you let teachers select their pupils with the aim of succeeding at a given exam, the success rate will be close to 100%.

Ditto with immigrants. If you can select your immigrants, it's pretty easy to make a success of immigration. Diploma is an obvious answer but, even concentrating on "low skill' immigration (which is useful/necessary too), if you spend any amount of time on selection, even just relying on "gut feelings" from your immigration officers, I suspect you would dramatically improve outcomes.

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The system is not selective as it is based on family reunion. To immigrate into the US you need a US citizen family member (in some cases a Permanent Resident). No work experience, skills, education required. Or some knowledge of the English language (Exceptions: refugees/asylum-seekers, Div. Lottery winners.) For all other it is almost impossible to come here - hence the large number of people who try to enter illegally.

A number of needed usually high level STEM workers is also allowed to immigrate, but usually first come on a non-immigrant H-1B visa (see my other answer here). The worker has to be willing to go to hell and back - and have a wife who is willing to lose everything and more.

"Gut feelings" from CBP officers are helpful when tourists enter the US. Permanent immigrants are vetted by Consular Officers abroad or USCIS. They must submit Police Certificate(s) and undergo a Medical Exam (that looks for communicable diseases and if people have all vaccinations CDC requires for their age group).

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