Migration, Inequality, and Racialization in the United States, 1900-2010

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2203 SS&H (Andrews Conference Room) | UC Davis

Inequality, understood as patterned disparities in the distribution of wealth and income, has become one of the most fundamental challenges facing contemporary society across the world. Meanwhile, migration has been identified as a peaceful form of redistribution and regulation of global inequality (Piketty 2014: 538). We test this hypothesis by analyzing the migration-inequality relationship using U.S. Decennial Census data since 1900, with particular attention to the last four decades.

Existing scholarly literature focuses on the impact of international migration on the development of countries of origin, and on labor markets in countries of reception. However, most of this literature tends to perceive of migration as an independent factor that affects inequality outcomes.

We take a different approach. First, rather than conceive of migration as a homogenous force, we interpret it as being formed by heterogeneous groups of people. They are heterogeneous not only in sociodemographic terms, but in their ethnic (national origin) and racial (white, non-white) composition. Second, we examine how inequality affects the lives of migrants themselves, rather than how migration (writ large) affects social inequality. Using U.S. Decennial Census data since 1900, we explore the impact of inequality on different migrant groups. We analyze four measures of social and economic inequality, namely, income, unemployment, poverty, and socioeconomic status.

One of our central findings is that, after controlling for conventional sociodemographic determinants (i.e., gender, age, education) and regional location, race and ethnicity appear to be highly significant factors that structure socioeconomic inequality within and between immigrant groups. Our most surprising finding has to do with what we call the racialization of inequality. In particular, we have found a strong tendency toward racialization of Latin American immigrants, making them more likely to have lower socioeconomic status, be poor, unemployed, and have lower household incomes, after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics. These findings call for more quantitative and qualitative research to further explore the role of race and ethnicity in the incorporation of immigrants and re/production of inequality.

Luis Guarnizo
Luis Guarnizo
Professor and Chair, Department of Human Ecology, UC Davis

Professor Guarnizo has done extensive research on economic sociology, transnational migration, immigrant entrepreneurs, comparative international development, and citizenship.



Carlos Becerra
Carlos Becerra
Ph.D. Student, Department of Human Ecology, UC Davis

Becerra is interested in the phenomena of inclusion and exclusion within the borders of the state, especially in uncovering practices of social and spatial exclusion within marginalized groups of internal migrants. His research questions the ascription of all-inclusive benefits to the institution of citizenship by modern democracies and promotes a careful reexamination of benefit distribution and development strategies.

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