Early European and Contemporary Hispanic Immigration: a Comparison of Crime and Income

Hispanic Americans make less money, on average than White Americans:

Racial gaps in household income persist

They also have higher rates of crime:


Incarceration 2014

Carson (2015)

Some argue that this was also true of early waves of European immigrants to America and so we should expect Hispanics to assimilate just as Europeans did.

There are many problems with this narrative. Here, I’m only going to explore one of said problems, namely, that European immigrants from the early 20th century did not exhibit the relative levels of poverty and criminality that are typical of today’s Hispanic immigrant population.

Data on income from Abramizsky et al. (2014) shows that even groups which were significantly discriminated against such as the Irish and the Italians had above average income levels even when just looking at first-generation immigrants.

2nd Gen

Crime data from Moehling and Piehl (2009) shows that the difference in criminality between native and foreign-born Whites was moderate in size in 1904 and quite small by 1923. In both years, the crime rates of foreign-born Whites were significantly lower than the crime rates of African Americans.

White Crime


Breaking the 1904 data down by ethnicity, it becomes clear that, even then, the immigrants with the highest crime rates came from Mexico. It also becomes evident that the Irish’s reputation for criminality comes from minor offenses, and that the foreign-born White crime rate was significantly inflated by Italian immigrants.

Irish Crime RatesDespite the general lack of crime and poverty among White immigrants, Americans were sufficiently bothered by their cultural differences that they passed the 1924 immigration act in order to limit non-north-western European immigration.

While survey data is plagued by ethnic attrition, a tendency of well-assimilated second and third generation Hispanics to stop self-identifying as Hispanic, so far as we can tell even third generation Hispanic immigrants have not fully assimilated into the United States in terms of socio-economic status.

Meidan inome by generation

Camarota (2012)

The differences between Hispanic and White Americans are significantly greater than were the differences between foreign and native-born White Americans in the early 20th century. Given this, it is hard to see how Americans European immigrants from a hundred years ago suggest that we should be unconcerned with Hispanic immigration today.


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