System Working Paper 18-10

Internal Immigrant Mobility in the Early 20th Century: Experimental Evidence from Galveston Immigrants

Daniel Aaronson | Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Jonathan Davis | University of Chicago
Karl Schulze | Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Published March 26, 2018

Between 1907 and 1914, the “Galveston Movement,” a philanthropic effort spearheaded by Jacob Schiff, fostered the immigration of approximately 10,000 Russian Jews through the Port of Galveston, Texas. Upon arrival, households were given train tickets to pre-selected locations west of the Mississippi River where a job awaited. Despite the program’s stated purpose to locate new Russian Jewish immigrants to the Western part of the U.S., we find that almost 90 percent of the prime age male participants ultimately moved east of the Mississippi, typically to large Northeastern and Midwestern cities. We use a standard framework for modeling location decisions to show destination assignments made cities more desirable, but this effect was overwhelmed by the attraction of religious and country of origin enclaves. By contrast, there is no economically or statistically significant effect of a place having a larger base of immigrants from other areas of the world and economic conditions appear to be of secondary importance, especially for participants near the bottom of the skill distribution. Our paper also introduces two novel adjustments for matching historical data – using an objective measure of match quality to fine tune our match scores and a deferred acceptance algorithm to avoid multiple matching.

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