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Educational Attainment (years)
Percentage Wage Differential Between Immigrants and Natives
Country of Birth
Source: Tabulations from the 1990 Public Use Sample of the U.S. Census of Population. The statistics are calculated in the subsample of women aged 25-64 years who work in the civilian sector, who are not self-employed, and who do not reside in group quarters. The educational attainment of native women in 1990 was 13.2 years.
wages of immigrant women over that period, the shift across regions in country of origin accounted for three-quarters.
This simple exercise points to a striking result: the relative decline in the economic status of both male and female immigrants can be attributed essentially to a single factor—the changing national-origin mix of the immigrant flow. If that mix had not changed in the past few decades, we would not have seen much change in the relative wage of immigrants.13
Who are the Immigrants?
One limitation of using conventional surveys to track changes in the status of immigrants over time is that the foreign-born population included in these surveys is not made up exclusively of legal immigrants. Though they are not permitted to live or work in this country, as many as 50 percent of illegal immigrants participate in surveys such as the census, according to current demographic estimates. Moreover, many nonimmigrants—for example, students and temporary workers—are included because they are residents of the United States at the time of the survey.
This exercise uses a very rough measure of national origin, the continent of arrival. Nevertheless, both Borjas (1992) and LaLonde and Topel (1992) show that the same result was obtained when the analysis considered a more detailed breakdown in terms of actual country of origin. The exercise does not take into account general equilibrium changes in relative wages that might have resulted from the shift in the national origins of immigrants.