Abstract: Bourgeois Migration and Knowledge Transfer: Evidence from U.S. Censuses and Who's Who in America, 1899-1938

Leslie Hannah


Selection of high-quality immigrants—by age, condition, and human capital endowment—benefited the United States, at the expense of Europe. Measuring the upper tail of these migration flows—"brain drains"—by educational diplomas is difficult before the later decades of the twentieth century, when formal qualifications became more ubiquitous, standardized, and systematically surveyed (and the adverse consequences of migrant flows more frequently ethically questioned). For earlier decades, Who's Who in America provides a proxy indicator of foreign contributions to the accumulation of the upper tail of U.S. human capital stocks. The results are consistent with status barriers against, or poor educational endowments of, immigrants, who generally experienced lower chances of listing than natives. Yet immigrants from Britain, Canada and France—the majority of those entering the elite—had better chances than native-born Americans of success in business and the professions by this measure. This outperformance in a predominantly Yankee economic space—prefiguring modern Asian immigrant outperformance—was associated with abundant social capital (network access and motivation to mix and succeed on American terms) and with human capital (education, training, experience, ability) apparently greater than that possessed by the average, early twentieth century, native-born American. This leakage of talent to the United States and elsewhere was severe for the United Kingdom, but was mitigated by the preference of many well-educated Germans and Americans for living and working in Britain.