Sunday, May 10, 2015

The culture, institutions, and human capital that the immigrant groups brought with them and pass on to their children are positively associated with local development in the US.

Some good long while ago, I looked at the PISA international education results based on continents of origin. I did this because, while I think that PISA is well intended and broadly well executed there are still some iffy data, and it seemed to me that US educational outcomes were being ill-reported. For example, the US has had a large, essentially rural and low education attainment immigration influx in the 1980-90s and yet the PISA scores hold steady. That would seem to indicate that the schooling system is assimilating a large population with no impact on PISA scores which is quite an accomplishment.

Public education is, in my own opinion, dramatically underperforming versus the resources invested but none-the-less, I think it is accomplishing much more than it is being given credit for.

The results were striking. Caucasian Americans perform better than all European countries on virtually every performance measure. Same with Asian Americans and their counterparts in Asia, African Americans and their counterparts, and Hispanics and their counterparts.

My one concern with this analysis was that it implied a decades and centuries long cultural resilience. That the values and behaviors of country of origin had very long durability, even past the point of conscious awareness. This is entirely consistent with the work of Gregory Clark (The Son Also Rises and Farewell to Alms) which reveal not just decadal persistence of values and behaviors but centuries long duration. The fact that there is a good body of evidence supporting the hypothesis still doesn't make it particularly easier to grasp. Which behaviors are being sustained and by what mechanism(s)? We don't, however, have to understand a phenomenon in order to acknowledge its reality.

This study, Does It Matter Where You Came From? Ancestry Composition and Economic Performance of U.S. Counties, 1850 - 2010 by Scott L. Fulford, Ivan Petkov, and Fabio Schiantarelli, provides some good evidence supporting the idea that culture indeed has a very long half-life. From the Abstract:
The United States provides a unique laboratory for understanding how the cultural, institutional, and human capital endowments of groups interact and shape economic outcomes. In this paper, we use census micro-sample information to reconstruct the country-of-ancestry distribution for US counties from 1850 to 2010. We also develop a county-level measure of GDP per capita over the same period. Using this novel panel data set, we investigate whether changes in the ancestry composition of a county matter for local economic development and the channels through which the cultural, institutional, and educational legacy of the country of origin affects economic outcomes in the US. Our results show that the evolution of the country-of-origin composition of a county matters. Moreover, the culture, institutions, and human capital that the immigrant groups brought with them and pass on to their children are positively associated with local development in the US. Among these factors, measures of culture that capture attitudes towards cooperation play the most important role, perhaps because they also reflect the quality and functioning of local institutions. Finally, our results suggest that while fractionalization of ancestry groups is positively related with county GDP, fractionalization in attributes such as trust, is negatively related to local economic performance.

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