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Migration and Development

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM (PDT)

Marriott Marquis, Torrey Pines 1
Hosted By: Economic History Association
  • Chair: Sumner La Croix, University of Hawaii

Southern (American) Hospitality: Italians in Argentina and the United States during the Age of Mass Migration

Santiago Perez
University of California-Davis


Italians were the largest contributors to the rise in southern European immigration that took place in the US at the turn of the 20th century. This rise fueled anti-immigrant sentiments which concluded with the US abandoning its open-door policy for European immigrants. I study the selection and economic outcomes of Italians in Argentina and the US, the two largest destinations for Italians in this period. Prior cross-sectional work shows that Italians had faster assimilation in Argentina, but is inconclusive on whether this was due to differences in selection or in host-country conditions. I assemble data following Italians from passenger lists to population censuses, enabling me to compare migrants with similar regional origins and pre-migration characteristics. First- and second-generation Italians had better economic outcomes in Argentina. Observable pre-migration characteristics cannot explain these differences. Path dependence in migration flows can rationalize these differences in an era of open borders.

Like an Ink Blot on Paper: Testing the Diffusion Hypothesis of Mass Migration, Italy 1876-1920

Ariell Zimran
Vanderbilt University and NBER
Yannay Spitzer
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Why were the poorer countries of the European periphery latecomers to the Age of Mass Migration? We test the diffusion hypothesis, which explains the delayed migration puzzle by arguing that mass migration from peripheral countries was delayed by a lack of exposure to migration networks, and that the geographic expansion of these networks in a process of spatial diffusion was the main factor that eventually triggered mass migration. Focusing on post-unification Italy, we construct a comprehensive commune- and district-level panel of annual emigration data over four decades. We develop a new set of stylized facts on Italian emigration that are consistent with four main predictions of the diffusion hypothesis. Among these, we show that Italian mass migration to North America began in a few separate epicenters and expanded from there in an orderly pattern of spatial expansion over time. Using a new instrumental variables strategy, we show that this pattern was the product of a mechanism in which emigration from one commune was affected by emigration from its neighbors. These findings strongly support the diffusion hypothesis, and call for a revision of our understanding of one of the most important features of the Age of Mass Migration.

The Slave Trade and Conflict in Africa, 1400-2000

Levi Boxell
Stanford University
John T. Dalton
Wake Forest University
Tommy Leung
Wake Forest University


The violent coercion of individuals and ethnic groups was a fundamental aspect of the African slave trade.
However, it is unclear the extent to which the African slave trade increased the propensity for these behaviors or whether more violent societies selected into the slave trade. Using geocoded conflict data going back to 1400 and exploiting the differential shock in the demand for slave exports across time (regional growth in slave exports) and space (distance to coast), we show that the African slave trade increased conflict propensities in pre-colonial Africa and that this effect has persisted to the present. We show that the persistent impact of the slave trade occurs almost exclusively in ethnic groups with natural resource deposits and that, absent the slave trade, the natural resource curse is non-existent. Thus providing a connection between the slave trade, the resource curse, and contemporary conflict in Africa.

More with Less? The Effects of Slave Emancipation on Output and Productivity in the British Cape Colony

Igor Martins
Lund University


The efficiency of the slave system and other methods of coercion are still the subject of debate among economists, historians and economic historians. To contribute to this debate this paper uses newly digitized historical databases covering more than 40 years in the district of Stellenbosch in the British Cape Colony on an individual-level basis while measuring changes in productivity and output before and after the emancipation of slaves in 1834. Preliminary results suggest that farmers were capable of recouping output losses shortly after the emancipation. Productivity, however, did not change dramatically evidencing that the slave economy of the Cape was virtually as efficient as a system based on wages. This study suggests that farmers' losses in the period can be better understood as capital losses and proposes that the study of slavery must go beyond the acknowledgment of the enslaved as labor inputs in agriculture.
Hisham Foad
San Diego State University
John Parman
College of William and Mary
Jean-Laurent Rosenthal
California Institute of Technology
Trevon Logan
Ohio State University
JEL Classifications
  • N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
  • J6 - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers