Are Mexican Migrants to the U.S. Adversely Selected on Ability?

Eric R. Jensen, College of William and Mary
Sarah M. Gale, College of William and Mary
Paul Charpentier, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Recent migrants to the United States may have lower earnings levels and a slower rate of earnings convergence with natives than previous immigrants. Borjas has argued that this reflects adverse selection of immigrants; others, including Card, Chiquiar and Hanson, and Smith, question this contention. Some of the ambiguity may be due to measurement problems, with schooling measured at varying levels of aggregation used in place of unobserved migrant quality. Using Mexican Migration Project data, we construct measures that isolate some sources of variation. Our findings regarding adverse selection of migrants are mixed. Echoing Smith’s (2006) cautions on the use of earnings as a measure of migrant quality, we suggest that supply constraints in its provision render educational attainment alone a poor indicator of ability.

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Presented in Session 115: Immigration and Public Policy