Immigrant women adjust incredibly well to the US economy

Immigration has been dragged into the spotlight once again not only by campaign rhetoric, but also by concerns over the emigration of Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris.

According to recent studies, half of Americans think that immigrants are harming the economy, and some of the political anti-immigrant rhetoric has been about immigrant’s lack of integration into the US’ economic and cultural structures.

According to a new paper by Francine Blau from Cornell University, female immigrants are significantly impacted by the culture of their home countries, but no matter where they’re from, they adapt quickly to the US economy.

“Immigrant women narrow the labour supply gap with native-born women with time in the United States, and, while our results suggest an important role for intergenerational transmission, they also indicate considerable convergence of immigrants to native levels of schooling, fertility, and labour supply across generations,” wrote Blau.

According to Blau’s analysis, one of the largest influences on labour participation for female immigrants is the culture of their home country.

In the past the large majority of immigrants to the US have been from European backgrounds, that has since reversed, as an overwhelming number of immigrants are now from Latin America and Southeast Asia.

The key difference for women entering the US economy, Blau notes, is that many of the women from previous waves of immigrants are from cultures with high female workforce participation, while the reverse is true of the new generation of immigrants.

This has led to a persistent gap in hours worked, a proxy for labour force engagement, between immigrants and native workers, both from high-participation (26% fewer hours worked upon arrival than natives) and low-participation countries (37% fewer).

The gap, however, quickly decreases for women from both high- and low-participation home countries. Here’s Blau:

“Work hours for women from both types of countries assimilate dramatically over time relative to comparable natives. Women from high female labour supply countries work roughly the same number of hours as natives after 6-10 years and work at or above the native levels thereafter. Women from low female labour supply countries continue to work less than natives throughout their time in the United States, but after 6-10 years their deficit is only 11-12%.”

Screen Shot 2015 11 30 at 1.08.42 PMBlau/NBERSource: Blau, Kahn, and Papps (2011)

According to Blau’s study, even significant cultural drags among immigrant women cannot hold them back from significant assimilation into the labour supply of the US, as both groups increase hours worked by ~26% within 10 years.

Additionally, for the next generation, the differences between immigrant’s female children and their native counterparts is even less pronounced even holding for the cultural factors Blau observes.

“While our results suggest an important role for intergenerational transmission, they also indicate considerable convergence of immigrants to native levels of schooling, fertility, and labour supply across generations,” wrote Blau.

“For example, when we control for all parental characteristics simultaneously, we find intergenerational transmission rates for those with both parents foreign born of 0.30 for education, 0.40 for fertility, and 0.47 for work hours. At these transmission rates, half or more of any difference in the immigrant generation has been eliminated by the second generation.”

So despite cultural factors causing issues, female immigrants, as well as their children, have proven to be incredibly adept at adapting to the US economy.

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