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Selective migration, wages, and occupational mobility in nineteenth century America

Laura Salisbury ()

Explorations in Economic History, 2014, vol. 53, issue C, 40-63

Abstract: This paper explores the extent to which unskilled internal migrants in the United States were motivated by the possibility of upward occupational mobility. Drawing on the literature on contemporary migrant selection and sorting, I argue that workers with greater potential for occupational upgrading may have selected themselves out of counties with low skill premiums and sorted themselves into counties with high skill premiums. Using linked data from the U.S. Census and county-level wage data, I present results consistent with this argument, with a focus on shorter distance movers. Conditioning on migrant status, I find that unskilled migrants who moved to places with high skill premiums were most likely to upgrade. I offer some evidence that migrant sorting explains much of this result. My results imply that previous research focusing solely on wage gains provides an incomplete picture of the factors motivating east–west migration in nineteenth century America.

Keywords: Internal migration; Occupational mobility; Skill premium (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N31 J31 J61 J62 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014
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DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2014.02.001

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