Published by EH.NET (September 1998)
. Hatton and Jeffrey G. Williamson, The Age of Mass Migration:
Causes and Economic Impact. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1998. ix + 301 pp. $49.95, ISBN: 0-19-511651-8.
Reviewed for EH.NET by Joshua L. Rosenbloom, Department of Economics,
University of Kansas, and National Bureau of Economic Research.
Between 1850 and 1914 about 55 million Europeans left home for the Americas or
Australasia. This unprecedented voluntary redistribution of population was the
subject of extensive study at the time, and remains of interest to historians
and other social scientists today. In this book Timothy Hatton,
Professor of Economics at the University of Essex, and Jeffrey Williamson,
Professor of Economics at Harvard University, present the results of their
reexamination of the causes and consequences of migration in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their approach is quantitative and
social scientific, eschewing micro-detail in pursuit of systematic patterns
and central tendencies.
Drawing on a broad array of quantitative evidence Hatton and Williamson provide
new support for many hypotheses while overturning quite a few more.
The work they report here is important and will be necessary reading for anyone
interested in historical or contemporary migration topics or the historical
development of labor markets. Although the authors suggest that a better
understanding of the era of mass migration will shed new light on contemporary
immigration controversies, it is less clearly successful in achieving this
goal. An accurate understanding of historical context is almost always
valuable, but I doubt that anything in this book would directly alter one’s
analysis or understanding of contemporary migration phenomena.
After two introductory chapters that lay out the major issues and summarize the
key findings, the rest of the book divides into two parts. The first
part–chapters 3 through 6–examines the causes of migration. The second
part–chapters 7 through 11–focuses on the effects of migration on both
receiving and sending regions.
The analysis of the causes of migration opens with an examination of the
determinants of variation in long-run gross emigration rates from 12 European
countries between 1850
and 1913. A variety of hypotheses about the determinants of migration are
first laid-out, and then tested using a panel-regression framework. In a major
advance over previous work, the regressions make use of internationally
comparable real-wage data for sending and receiving regions constructed by
Williamson. The strong positive effect of relative real wages provides a
compelling confirmation of the importance of economic incentives in encouraging
migration. But the regressions also demonstrate that
a number of other non-wage factors were important. In particular, they reveal
that demographic shocks, the assistance of friends and relatives living
overseas, the progress of industrialization at home, and the rate of migration
in the recent past all had a significant effect on the rate of emigration.
Overall the model does a good job of accounting for inter-country variations in
emigration rates. It appears that differences in the explanatory variables are
sufficient to account for both the very high rates of emigration from Ireland
and Scandinavia and the very low rates of emigration from France. Only four
Portugal, and Belgium–require the addition of separate intercept terms to
account for their level of emigration. The
estimates also illuminate the sources of the characteristic inverted-U shape
pattern of emigration rates found for most countries, which appears to have
arisen from the systematic evolution of several of the explanatory variables as
each country passed through the process of industrialization.
In chapters 4 through 6 the authors extend their model of emigration to account
for short-run variations in the timing of migration and apply it to the
experience of a range of different countries. Chapter 4 elaborates a
short-run model incorporating the effects of employment conditions at home and
abroad into the general framework developed earlier, and estimates it using
data from the United Kingdom and three Scandinavian countries.
Chapter 5 explores Irish emigration after the famine, while Chapter 6
considers the case of Italian emigration. The results in each case are
consistent with those obtained from the panel regressions reported in Chapter
3, while confirming that short-run fluctuations in the timing of emigration
were influenced by variations in relative unemployment levels.
Because adequate data on unemployment are not readily available in all cases,
however, estimation of these models leans heavily on the use of proxies, some
more adequate than others. In the case of Ireland, for example, it is
necessary to use deviations of agricultural output from its trend. It is not
obvious that this measure should be closely related to unemployment rates,
however, and no support for this substitution is offered in the text.
Despite the broad similarity in approach for these different country studies,
there is no explicit attempt to compare or contrast them in the text.
Annoyingly, the regression results in each chapter are reported in slightly
different for mats, and there is no attempt to assemble the results in a
coherent fashion. While the results for the different countries are similar in
many respects I was struck by some of the differences in coefficient estimates.
For example, it would appear that the stock of migrants living abroad had an
effect on emigration from the United Kingdom and Ireland several orders of
magnitude larger than it did for Italy or the Scandinavian countries. Why this
should be true is not immediately apparent.
The second half of the book shifts the focus from the causes of migration to
its consequences on receiving and sending regions. Two chapters (7 and 8)
examine the United States, one of the chief destination countries.
Chapter 7 explores the progress of immigrant assimilation, a topic that
attracted considerable contemporary concern, and has also generated a large
historical literature. While a number of recent studies have found little
evidence of immigrant assimilation (as measured by the gap in earnings relative
to the native born), Hatton and Williamson reach a more optimistic conclusion
on this subject. Arguing that the quadratic age-earnings profiles estimated in
earlier studies are misspecified, Hatton and Williamson show that once a more
realistic specification is adopted wage gaps appear to have closed relatively
quickly for older immigrant groups.
Although the newer immigrant groups who predominated after 1890 did start at a
significant wage disadvantage relative to the native born,
Hatton and Williamson conclude that this was due largely to their lower skill
levels, and find that there is nonetheless evidence that wage gaps closed over
Chapter 8 considers the impact of immigration on Americans. Here Hatton and
Williamson argue that immigrants competed directly with less skilled
native-born workers, and although migration was sensitive to short-run economic
fluctuations it did little to moderate variations in unemployment rates over
the business cycle. These facts suggest that immigration should have tended
to lower American wage levels. Using a partial equilibrium framework, they
suggest that by 1910 American wages would have been 5 to 6 percent higher in
the absence of immigration after 1890, or 11 to 14 percent higher if there had
been no immigration after 1870.
Chapters 9 and 10 introduce a general equilibrium framework to analyze the
impact on sending regions, and the contribution of migration to the substantial
wage convergence which occurred during the late nineteenth century. The
equilibrium framework allows the authors to assess the relative contributions
of factor price equalization and labor mobility in producing wage convergence.
Both trade and migration emerge as important factors in explaining the
narrowing of international wage gaps, although their relative importance
varies from country to country. The general equilibrium framework also helps
to highlight the extent to which the impact of migration depends on the
counterfactual world against which events are to be compared. In particular,
the late nineteenth century was characterized by considerable capital as well
as labor mobility, and the fact that capital
“chased” labor from the Old to the New World substantially offset the extent of
wage convergence. Had capital
not been mobile, migration would have produced even more dramatic convergence
than it actually did. These findings suggest that, at least for this period,
forces of globalization may have been more important than technological
convergence, which has figured so prominently in recent discussions of the
sources of international differences in real incomes.
On the face of it, these results seem plausible. But it is difficult to
adequately assess them, both because of the complexity of the general
models on which they rest, and the fact that many of the details needed to
evaluate the models are not explicitly discussed in the book. Rather, curious
or skeptical readers will be obliged to refer to a series of other articles to
track down these facts.
In chapter 11, the authors consider the impact of population redistribution on
inequality. The chapter makes an important conceptual point: that discussions
of migration’s effects on inequality have generally taken too narrow a view by
focussing on a single country. Much more light can in principle be shed on
the question by considering the simultaneous effects on both sending and
receiving countries. The chapter is less successful,
however, at resolving the empirical question of how migration affected
inequality trends in different countries. A priori we might expect that
immigration would tend to reduce inequality in labor-abundant Old World
countries while raising it in labor-scarce New World countries. Hatton and
Williamson argue that this
is the case, based on the behavior of wage-land value and wage-GDP per worker
hour ratios–both of which tended to fall in destination countries and rise in
source countries. But this evidence is not entirely convincing given the large
volume of international capital flows. Since Old World capitalists were able
to benefit from high rates of return on New World investments it is not obvious
what these ratios reveal about income inequality trends within countries.
As an analysis of the causes and consequences of migration in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this book is an important
contribution to the literature. It offers a comprehensive quantitative
analysis that substantially extends and modifies our understanding of this
important historical epoch. The conclusions and conjectures here should
provide much food for thought and subsequent study.
Joshua L. Rosenbloom Department of Economics University of Kansas and National
Bureau of Economic Research
Joshua L. Rosenbloom is author of “Strikebreaking and the Labor Market in the
United States, 1881-1894,” Journal of Economic History 58 (Mar.
1998), and “Was There a National Labor Market at the End of the Nineteenth
Century? New Evidence on Earnings in Manufacturing,”
Economic History 56 (Sept. 1996); as well as numerous other articles on the
history of U.S. labor markets.