Economic Reasoning with a Racial Hue: Is the Immigration Consensus Purely Race Neutral?

Economic Reasoning with a Racial Hue: Is the Immigration Consensus Purely Race Neutral?

By
Benjamin J. Newman, Neil Malhotra
The Journal of Politics. January
2019, Vol. 81, Issue 1

Leading research is converging on the finding that citizens from immigrant-receiving nations strongly prefer the entry of high-skilled to low-skilled immigrants. Prior studies have largely interpreted this “skill premium” as deriving from sociotropic economic considerations. We argue that a purely economic conceptualization offers an incomplete understanding of the processes generating the skill premium, as it overlooks the role of prejudice as a factor undergirding citizens’ preferences. We contend that the skill premium is a manifestation of prejudice inasmuch as it constitutes a preference for those atypical of the existing immigrant population. Through reanalysis of data from published work, as well as through original survey experiments, we demonstrate that a purely economic interpretation of the skill premium fails a range of critical tests. Our findings suggest that rather than solely representing a race-neutral preference for skilled immigrants, the skill premium partly represents a preference against disliked prevalent immigrants.