Warmth of the Welcome: The Social Causes of Economic Success for Immigrants in Different Nations and Cities

By Jeffrey G. Reitz | Go to book overview

7
Compounding Institutional
Forces that Shape Immigrant
Economic Success

This study has shown how an array of mainstream social institutions, including education, labor markets, and social welfare, have shaped the relative economic success of the first cohort of 'new immigrants' in U.S., Canadian, and Australian cities following policy reforms of the 1960s. Census data reveal that immigrants from similar backgrounds have entered the economic hierarchy at substantially lower levels in the United States, particularly in the larger immigration-destination cities, than have their counterparts in either Canadian or Australian cities. Each national and urban immigrant destination has a distinctive social-institutional environment, which in effect assigns immigrants to their place in society. Those specific institutional structures, which have been associated with the strongly individualistic character of American society, produced markedly lower entry-level earnings for immigrants in that country and particularly in its high-immigration cities.

These findings make clear that the economic success of immigrants is not only a function of factors outside a society which determine the composition of immigrant flows--border control, refugee needs, or the immigration market in general--nor is it determined entirely by specific differences in the selectivity of immigration policy. To a very significant degree, immigrant success is also shaped by the structure of the host society's own mainstream institutions. Where institutions have been structured in more individualistic patterns, immigrants encounter greater obstacles to a realization of their economic potential. The evidence here focuses on the critical initial years of entry, which set the primary parameters for the entire process of immigrant integration to follow.

These institutional forces create problems for immigrants because they tend to compound and magnify the adversities inherent in the process of migration and adjustment to a new environment. By the same token, the

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