Ariell Zimran
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The Economic Assimilation of Irish Famine Migrants to the United States
with William J. Collins
Explorations in Economic History 74, 101302
Revised version of NBER Working Paper 25287

The repeated failure of Ireland's potato crop in the late 1840s led to a major famine and sparked a surge in migration to the US. We build a new dataset of Irish immigrants and their sons by linking males from 1850 to 1880 US census records. For comparison, we also link German and British immigrants, their sons, and males from US native-headed households. We document a decline in the observable human capital of famine-era Irish migrants compared to pre-famine Irish migrants and to other groups in the 1850 census, as well as worse labor market outcomes. The disparity in labor market outcomes persists into the next generation when immigrants' and natives' sons are compared in 1880. Nonetheless, we find strong evidence of intergenerational convergence in that famine-era Irish sons experienced a much smaller gap in occupational status in 1880 than their fathers did in 1850. The disparities are even smaller when the Irish children are compared to those from observationally similar native white households. A descriptive analysis of mobility for the children of the famine Irish indicates that having a more Catholic surname and being born in Ireland were associated with less upward mobility. Our results contribute to literatures on immigrant assimilation, refugee migration, and the Age of Mass Migration.