The Impact of Immigration on the Success of High-Skilled Women in the U.S.

in Emerging Research, Faculty, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News
January 19th, 2012

Patricia Cortes

Patricia Cortés’ New Research Appears in the American Economic Journal

Much controversy about immigration in the U.S. stems from the fear that incoming foreigners deprive natives’ access to jobs. But a recent study by Boston University School of Management’s Patricia Cortés and co-author José Tessada suggests a different, long-ignored result of immigration: that the arrival of low-skilled laborers in this country provides the conditions for high-skilled women to succeed in their careers.

Cortés, an assistant professor in the Markets, Public Policy & Law Department, and Tessada, faculty member at Escuela de Administración (Business School), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, reveal their findings in their paper “Low-Skilled Immigration and the Labor Supply of Highly Skilled Women,” appearing in the July 2011 American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Using census data and tracking the immigration wave of the 1980s and 1990s, the authors find a striking correspondence between the availability of low-cost, flexible housekeeping and child care services provided by newcomers, and an increase in the number of hours worked by women in high-salary jobs, particularly those traditionally dominated by men. However, though the availability of support for home-related responsibilities correlates to an increase in labor hours for highly educated women in the top income bracket, it has no impact on the likelihood of these women gaining employment to begin with, suggesting that low-skilled immigration might increase job success for high-skilled women who already have careers but doesn’t necessarily compel them into the workplace.

“Low-skilled immigration into the U.S. can generate effects on the labor supply that go beyond the standard analysis of the impact immigrants have on natives of similar skill.”

Explain Cortés & Tessada, “We find a large positive and statistically significant effect of low-skilled immigration on the hours worked per week of working women at the top quartile of the female wage distribution. Much smaller, but still statistically significant, effects are found for women above the median, and no effects are found for women with wages below the median….Focusing on women working in occupations where men have long hours of work, we find large positive and statistically significant effects of low-skilled immigration in the probability that women also work long hours.”

Among their specific findings are data suggesting that the low-skilled immigration wave of the period 1980–2000:

  • Reduced by close to seven minutes a week the average time women at the top of the wage distribution spent on household chores;
  • Increased by 20 minutes a week the average time women at the top of the wage distribution devoted to market work; and
  • Increased the probability that women employed in occupations demanding long hours would work more than 50 to 60 hours a week.

This last result is especially important, since many women in this group ― lawyers, physicians, and women with PhDs ― work in fields where success depends upon working long hours.

“By lowering the prices of services that are close substitutes of home production, low-skilled immigrants might increase the labor supply of highly skilled native women.”

“Low-skilled immigration into the United States can generate effects on the labor supply of natives that go beyond the standard analysis of the impact immigrants have on natives of similar skill,” argue Cortés & Tessada. “By lowering the prices of services that are close substitutes of home production,” they conclude, “low-skilled immigrants might increase the labor supply of highly skilled native women.”

Read more about “Low-Skilled Immigration and the Labor Supply of Highly Skilled Women.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. 3 (July 2011): 88–123.