Streets of Gold

America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success

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By Ran Abramitzky

By Leah Boustan

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Forbes, Best Business Books of 2022
Behavioral Scientist, Notable Books of 2022

The facts, not the fiction, of America’s immigration experience

Immigration is one of the most fraught, and possibly most misunderstood, topics in American social discourse—yet, in most cases, the things we believe about immigration are based largely on myth, not facts. Using the tools of modern data analysis and ten years of pioneering research, new evidence is provided about the past and present of the American Dream, debunking myths fostered by political opportunism and sentimentalized in family histories, and draw counterintuitive conclusions, including:

  • Upward Mobility: Children of immigrants from nearly every country, especially those of poor immigrants, do better economically than children of U.S.-born residents – a pattern that has held for more than a century.
  • Rapid Assimilation: Immigrants accused of lack of assimilation (such as Mexicans today and the Irish in the past) actually assimilate fastest.
  • Improved Economy: Immigration changes the economy in unexpected positive ways and staves off the economic decline that is the consequence of an aging population.
  • Helps U.S. Born: Closing the door to immigrants harms the economic prospects of the U.S.-born—the people politicians are trying to protect.
Using powerful story-telling and unprecedented research employing big data and algorithms, Abramitzky and Boustan are like dedicated family genealogists but millions of times over. They provide a new take on American history with surprising results, especially how comparable the “golden era” of immigration is to today, and why many current policy proposals are so misguided.





I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them.

—Unknown Italian immigrant, painted on the wall of the Ellis Island Museum

For over two centuries, immigration has been a defining element of America’s culture, society, and economy. Yet, our national conversations about immigration are driven largely by myths. These myths can be either positive or negative: for every uplifting tale of an immigrant striking it rich, there is an ominous story of an immigrant undermining American culture from within. For many Americans, ideas about immigration are based on these tales and the feelings they arouse, not on facts and data. It’s no wonder immigration is one of those divisive issues that everyone thinks they understand. Ultimately, immigration myths color how voters think about immigration and affect immigration policy.

Our aim in this book is to rebuild the story of immigration to America from the ground up, uncovering the patterns that emerge from data on millions of immigrants’ lives. Our journey to get the facts right has taken us to many unexplored data sources that span nearly a century and a half of American history, starting around 1880 with the Age of Mass Migration from Europe and running through the present.

Think of us like curious grandchildren searching branches of their family tree online, but a million times over. We started by digging through websites like that allow the public to search for their relatives. From there, we developed methods to automate these searches so we could follow millions of immigrants and their children in the records as they moved up the economic ladder and integrated into American society. We also read through thousands of immigrant interviews and congressional speeches, and used the latest linguistic tools and machine-learning techniques to systematically analyze these texts. All told, we were able to compile what is the first set of truly big data about immigration.

The immigrants that we follow journey from crowded New York City tenements to leafy suburbs, and from small family farms to growing cities. Our data includes everyone from bankers to errand boys—a bit like following the life stories of everyone in the phone book, rather than only the CEOs or the criminals who make it to the front page of the newspaper. We supplement our research on the past with data on immigrants in America today, using everything from birth certificates to tax records to oral histories. Compiling information on as many immigrants as possible allows us to move beyond myths and nostalgia to tell the true story of immigration that has been hiding in plain sight all along.

The data gives us clues about why immigrants chose to come to the United States, and tells us when they left school, how well they spoke English, the occupations they held over their work lives, their earnings, whom they married, the names they chose for their children, and their children’s outcomes as they became adults. With our new data, we can reassess some of the common myths about immigration, contributing a new understanding of the immigrant experience in American history to today’s national debate.

Is it really true that past immigrants moved quickly from rags to riches? Are today’s immigrants less successful than immigrants in the past, and do today’s immigrants integrate more slowly into society than past immigrants? Do immigrants harm US-born workers through added competition for jobs? These are some of the major questions we answer in this book.


Our hope has always been that our findings about the true nature of immigrant success would interest people from all walks of life. So we were thrilled when, one day in 2019, a small part of our research escaped the ivory tower and found its way to late-night TV on Showtime’s Desus & Mero show. The segment started with Desus, one of the hosts, saying, “Yo, recent study found that children of immigrants do better than children of those born in the US.”1 Somehow he was able to distill our five-year research project about the children of immigrants down to a single sentence.

Our study was overturning two commonly held myths about immigrant prosperity. First, many believe that immigrants who come to the United States today from poor backgrounds will never catch up to the US born. The data reveals a different pattern: children of immigrants from nearly every country in the world, including from poorer countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Laos, are more upwardly mobile than the children of US-born residents who were raised in families with a similar income level. The second misconception is that immigrants in the past, who came almost exclusively from Europe, were more successful than today’s immigrants, who come from around the globe. Our data reveals that, despite major changes in immigration policy over time, immigrants today move up the economic ladder at the same pace as European immigrants did in the past.

With our work as inspiration, Desus and his cohost, The Kid Mero, hit the streets of Queens (“our Ellis Island,” they added) to ask passersby what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents. Desus and The Kid Mero are a favorite of younger, Twitter-savvy viewers. The comedy duo act like two friends who just enjoy each other’s company, always ready with a laugh to appreciate a good turn of phrase. They share a “Bronx uniform”: short, defined beards, baseball caps with a flat brim, The Kid Mero’s hoodie and Desus’s double T-shirt.

Desus and The Kid Mero now have a career that should make any parent proud—maybe even an immigrant parent—but as students back in the Bronx, they never expected to make it to television. When they first made it big, an interviewer asked them, “What were you guys? Were you comedians? Were you aspiring?” “No,” said Desus, “just two guys at school—just funny. Just hang in the hallways and go to class. Actual New York City high school students.… We saw each other in summer school. We’d do the little head nod.”2

That day, Desus and The Kid Mero invited along fellow comedian Hasan Minhaj to the Queens street corner. The comedians are themselves children of immigrants; in fact, their families are very likely captured in our modern datasets. Hasan Minhaj was raised by highly educated immigrant parents in Davis, California. His mother and father, a chemist and a medical doctor, are immigrants from Uttar Pradesh in India. Desus (né Daniel Baker) and The Kid Mero (né Joel Martinez) are children of working-class immigrants from the Caribbean. Desus jokes that his parents arrived in the country with “a goat and one Bitcoin.”3

Above the din of the rattling of the elevated train and a constant stream of traffic, the trio interviewed adult children of immigrants who happened to pass by. Everyone talked about the sacrifices that their parents made to get to the United States and about the stories and legends they heard growing up in an immigrant family. Life turned out well for these children of immigrants, even if their successes did not quite live up to their parents’ often unrealistic dreams.

Immigrant parents’ high expectations of their kids was, in fact, the main topic of conversation in these street interviews. The Kid Mero asked a son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic: “What is the strongest guilt you have received from your parents?” The man answered with an exaggerated eye roll: “Oh man, my Pops reminded me of the struggle of getting from DR [the Dominican Republic] to here, so nothing was good enough.”

Another son of immigrants, who described himself as a “brown guy named Usama in Texas”—perfect shorthand for how hard it can be as a child of immigrants trying to fit in—told the story of getting into medical school and deciding to not go. “My mom threw nineteen pots at me. The good ones, too. The glass ones.” Hasan recalls how he, too, didn’t live up to his own parents’ expectations: “The rebellion for me was I was a poli-sci major instead of premed.… I really broke out.”

Only one person, a South Asian man in a North Face jacket, seemed to be a success in his parents’ eyes. Desus: “Are your parents proud of you?” Man: “I would say yes.” Hasan: “You said yes with such confidence.” The Kid Mero: “You must be a lawyer that’s also a doctor.” “Ah, you know,” the man said, “I never made it to both of those degrees. I became an engineer, though.”4

Our research underscores what Desus and The Kid Mero heard out on the streets of Queens that cold day. Children of immigrants from all over the globe are making it here in America. Even when their parents struggle and have to work two jobs to get by, the children of immigrants rise.

We make these broad statements not because of a few man-on-the-street interviews, but on the basis of systematic analysis of many immigrant records. For more than a decade, we have built large datasets, overturning many of the defining myths in America’s immigration history. What we share with you is the final product of our research, along with the stories behind the data and a flavor of how the findings come together.


When Democrat Jon Ossoff of Georgia was sworn into office in January 2021, becoming one of the youngest senators in US history, he carried in his breast pocket a copy of two ship manifests: one for his paternal great-grandfather, Israel Osshowsky, who arrived in the United States in 1911, and one for his great-grandmother, Annie, who joined her husband in the United States in 1913.5 Later that day, Ossoff mentioned this sentimental gesture on social media, marveling that “a century later, their great grandson was elected to the U.S. Senate.” This is the promise of America, Ossoff implied, that the sons and daughters of immigrants from all around the world can rise to the halls of power.

As economic historians who study the past with the hope of illuminating the present, we took special note of the manner that Ossoff chose to honor his ancestors: not with a sepia-toned photograph or a family heirloom but with passenger records, listing his great-grandparents by name at the very moment they set foot on American shores.

After his swearing in, we couldn’t help but look up Ossoff’s great-grandfather in the historical census records on, a source that we have turned to many times over the years. We found that by 1920, Israel Osshowsky had already changed his last name to Ossoff and was living with his wife, Annie, and their five young children in Peabody, Massachusetts, where he worked as a laborer in a leather factory.

By leaving Lithuania for Peabody, Israel Ossoff had likely already doubled his fortunes. A century ago, poverty was higher in many European countries than in the United States, so immigrants had a lot to gain by crossing the Atlantic. Escaping their financial plight was what 44 percent of immigrants who arrived during this period reported as the reason they came to America, while 34 percent were following family members and 20 percent were fleeing persecution, according to details gathered by the Ellis Island Foundation.6

Looking at historical census data gives an even better fix on the financial value of moving versus staying home. In one of our research projects, we followed pairs of brothers born in Norway, one of whom left for the United States by 1900 while the other remained behind. (We focused on Norway because the Norwegian census data happens to be highly complete.) Brothers who immigrated to the United States earned nearly twice as much as their siblings back home.7

The best estimates suggest that much the same is true today: immigrants can more than double their earnings by moving to the United States.8 So the impetus to immigrate is as strong as ever. Its only the countries that are different: you don’t see many immigrants from Norway to the United States these days because Norway has become one of the richest nations in the world, with a higher median income per person than the United States. Today, most immigrants hail from countries that, relative to the United States, are far poorer than European home countries were a century ago. Consider the fact that nine of the ten countries sending the largest numbers of immigrants to the United States these days are ranked between the 90th and 150th countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita (out of 195)—countries like El Salvador, India, and Vietnam. Korea is the only large immigration partner that cracks the top fifty.9

Our research shows that crossing the Atlantic in the past—or the Rio Grande today—is the biggest step on immigrants’ ladder of upward economic mobility. In this way, America really does have golden streets that allow newcomers to quickly make more than they could have earned at home.

But we also find that moving up the economic ladder in America—and catching up to the US born—takes time. Nearly a decade after arrival, Israel Ossoff was still working as a laborer, a job that today would probably earn the minimum wage. Census records indicate that ten years later, he reported being in the “express business,” with a truck that hauled leather goods from the factory in Peabody. It was only by 1940, close to thirty years after his first arrival, that Israel converted this small business into ownership of a local gas station.10


Although Jon Ossoff himself is an outlier for ending up on Capitol Hill, his family is a good illustration of our work tracing the rising fortunes of immigrant families through historical data. The Ossoffs represent only one entry in our larger ledger, a dataset that follows millions of immigrant families through historical census records from their arrival onward. The very power of such large datasets is that we do not need to rely on the recollections of a small number of immigrants who left diaries or memoirs, and we do not need to wonder whether a particular story is typical or an exception.

Indeed, when we turn to the big data, we find that many of Americans’ widely held beliefs about immigrant success do not stand up to scrutiny. One of our nation’s triumphal myths is that immigrants arriving at Ellis Island a century ago with only a few dollars in their pocket could quickly achieve prosperity through their own hard work and ingenuity. Indeed, many older academic studies—conducted using the sparse information that was available at the time—supported the view that immigrants in the past were able to catch up to the US born remarkably quickly, matching and surpassing their earnings within a few years.11 By comparison with this rapid ascent, today’s immigrants seem to be lagging behind.

But our data tell a different story. In the coming pages, we will provide evidence that will revise myths about immigration in three major ways. First, the nostalgic view of immigrants in the past moving quickly from rags to riches does not fit the facts. Second, newcomers today are just as quick to move up the economic ladder as in the past, and immigrants now are integrating into American culture just as surely as immigrants did back then. And finally, immigrant success does not come at the expense of US-born workers.

The lives that immigrants lead after arriving in the United States have never been as easy as the common nostalgic view. Many of the historical immigrants that we follow through the data were slow to climb up the economic ladder. Often, the move from low-paid jobs to higher-paid positions took a whole lifetime, and many immigrants never caught up to US-born workers in their occupations or earnings. As the unnamed immigrant whose words we use to open the chapter observed, not only were the streets not paved with gold, but immigrants were expected to pave their own way.

In the pace of their economic progress, immigrants of the past were very similar to immigrants today. Immigrants in the past did not rise from poverty to comfort as quickly as we believe, nor are today’s immigrants climbing the economic ladder any more slowly than past immigrants. We will see that the story of Israel Ossoff’s slow progress can very well be told of immigrant families today.

The true ascent for immigrant families happens in the next generation. The children of immigrants, like in Jon Ossoff’s family, or Desus’s and The Kid Mero’s, achieve incredible economic success—a pattern that has held in the United States for more than a century. We find in the data that the children of immigrants from nearly every country, especially children of poor immigrants, are more upwardly mobile than the children of US-born residents. The children of immigrants from El Salvador are as likely to be economically successful nowadays as were the children of immigrants from Great Britain 150 years ago.

One such success story is Gisel Ruiz, who grew up in California’s Central Valley, the daughter of Mexican farm laborers. Her cousin, Alfredo Corchado, grew up alongside Gisel and wrote about their childhood in his memoir, Homelands.12 After school, Gisel worked “hoeing cotton, working atop tomato machines for her father Pilar and mother Martha.” Despite their own lack of formal education, her parents encouraged her to go to college. “There was no other way,” they told her, to get ahead in America. She graduated from nearby Santa Clara University with a degree in marketing and went on to ascend to the upper ranks of the American business elite, as a top executive at Walmart. Gisel is just one of many children of immigrants who moved up, a few of whom we profile in the book. Although her rise was faster than most, we see variants of Gisel’s story repeated in the data time and again.

All in all, we find a common immigrant story of strong economic mobility in both the past and the present. This shared immigrant experience is all the more remarkable given the dramatic changes in immigration policy over time. A century ago, immigrants from Europe and Canada did not require a visa or passport for entry, nor did they need to prove that they had a family member or a job waiting for them (although immigrants from Asia faced many more restrictions). Today, immigrant entry is highly restricted, and many immigrants arrive without documents. But the bottom line remains the same: the American Dream is just as real for immigrants from Asia and Latin America now as it was for immigrants from Italy and Russia one hundred years ago.

Our findings are decidedly more optimistic than other studies that have warned that the children of immigrants from poor countries might be on a path to a permanent underclass.13 Being raised in America is a great equalizer for immigrant children from many ethnic backgrounds, and parents’ country of origin need not be destiny. But one important factor makes us less optimistic: race. As a group, children of Black parents have lower upward mobility than children of white parents, and we find a similar pattern in our data when comparing children of immigrants from Caribbean countries with children of immigrants from Europe or from Asia.14 But here, too, we find some room for optimism. As we’ll show in Chapter 5, many children of immigrants from majority-Black countries (particularly daughters) do remarkably well.

Our data also busts another widely held myth: that today’s immigrants are slower to embrace American culture and society than were European immigrants in the past. The data shows that current immigrants do not assimilate into US society any more slowly than past immigrants. Both in the past and today, immigrants make tremendous efforts to join American society. We document the process of cultural assimilation in large datasets using a variety of measures: Do immigrants become fluent in English? Do they leave immigrant enclaves and move to more integrated neighborhoods? Do immigrants or their children marry spouses from other countries of origin or who were born in the United States? We even learn about efforts that immigrants make to fit in by choosing more American-sounding names for their children as they spend more time in the United States and learn more about American culture.

What we find across all these measures is that the pace of cultural assimilation is very similar in the past and present. Not only that, the immigrant groups most accused of unwillingness to assimilate—Southern and Eastern Europeans in the past, Mexicans today—actually tended to assimilate the fastest. And, contrary to common concerns that refugees will remain isolated, we find that refugees assimilate even faster than other immigrants.

The story that emerges when we let the data speak is a happy one, a tale of economic prosperity and cultural integration. In one generation’s time, we find that it becomes hard to tell apart the children of immigrants from the children of the US born. Both groups are simply American.


Yet, simply knowing that immigrants themselves eventually thrive is not the end of the story. What if newcomers squeeze out existing residents for jobs or housing or access to public services? In that case, it would be hard to justify the number of immigrants currently entering the country—let alone an increase in immigration.

Indeed, many politicians defend immigration restrictions as a means of supporting the American worker. If we block new immigration, the idea goes, there will be more jobs for the US born. Yet, when we look to the evidence—either for the past or the present—we do not find that immigrants steal the last slice from a fixed pie. Rather, immigrants help the economy grow, contributing to science, innovation, and culture.

To be sure, immigration creates some winners and losers in the labor market—but only in the short term. US-born workers who do the same types of jobs that immigrants tend to face more competition for jobs. But today, immigrants often fill roles that have few available US-born workers: either very highly educated positions in tech and science, or work that requires very little education, such as picking crops by hand, washing dishes, landscaping, and taking care of the elderly. In fact, the workers who can lose out the most in the short term from new immigrant arrivals are not US-born workers but immigrants who themselves came to the United States a few years before.

These days, research into episodes of immigration restriction or new immigrant entry strongly rejects the zero-sum idea that immigrant workers steal American jobs. Immigration policy is not as easy as saying “close the border and jobs will come.” Instead, as a nation we should focus on the ways in which immigrants promote a growing economy, with jobs available for all, rather than imagine that there is a fixed set of jobs to divide between immigrants and the US born. The important role of immigration in contributing to population growth is all the more critical now that we are in the midst of what census watchers call “demographic stagnation.”15 To continue building the labor force, immigration is essential for filling key jobs in health care, tech, construction, and manufacturing.16

As a country, we are in dire need of shared facts about immigration. Too often, rational discussion of immigration is overwhelmed by anecdotes that can slant the narrative in one direction or another. It is easy to get influenced by daily headlines of a “crisis” at the southern border, which can stoke fears that the country is being overrun by newcomers. As a result, voters overestimate the number of immigrants living in the country and underestimate immigrants’ economic contributions, assuming that more immigrants are dependent on welfare than really do use government benefits.17 Our large datasets comparing immigrants in the past and present bring new evidence to the national discussion on immigration policy.

We realize that different people can reach different conclusions from the same facts. Even to those who are convinced that immigration is good for America, more immigration isn’t always better. It would be facile to say that US policy should maximize the number of immigrants. Thus, we do not seek to give simplistic policy solutions. Our main message is more basic: as a society, we need to design our immigration policy at the level of generations; the immigrants of today are the Americans of tomorrow. Taking a short-term perspective—as candidates focusing on the next election cycle often do—underestimates the potential contributions that immigrants and their children will make to the economy in the future.

It can feel, at times, like bringing facts to the table is futile. There is a vocal and emboldened minority who oppose immigration under the mantle of America First. But the data conveys a clear message: immigration is good for America, and immigrants and their children ultimately become Americans, both then and now.


Our motivation for writing this book is rooted in our belief in the power of data to discover the truth about immigration and to undermine the simplistic—and ultimately false—notions that for far too long have influenced the way many Americans perceive immigration and immigrants. We hope that learning the real story of immigration to America over the past two centuries will help politicians and voters build immigration policy on a stronger foundation for the next hundred years.

We also have a more personal goal, one we hope resonates with people who see their own face or the faces of their grandparents in the stories we tell. In trying to set the record straight about immigration, we wanted to understand our own family narratives and where we ourselves—as an immigrant and the descendant of immigrants—fit into the American story.

Leah has heard her own family’s immigration history many times. With the years of retellings, the stories have a way of becoming tall tales. As one of the passersby interviewed on Desus & Mero joked about his father, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, “My Pops… first told me…, ‘I came here with fifty dollars”; two years [later, it was,] ‘I came with fifty cents and that’s it!’”


  • “The book reflects an ongoing renaissance in the field of economic history fueled by technological advances — an increase in digitized records, new techniques to analyze them and the launch of platforms such as Ancestry — that are breathing new life into a range of long-standing questions about immigration. Abramitzky and Boustan are masters of this craft, and they creatively leverage the evolving data landscape to deepen our understanding of the past and present.”—Washington Post
  • “Abramitzky and Boustan have made an immense contribution to our understanding the economic history of immigration and what it can teach us about upward mobility in the United States.”—Foreign Policy
  • “This wonderful and highly readablebook provides the facts and sets the record straight about the hot-button issue of immigration and is a must-read for anyone who cares about this important issue. Immigrants benefit from coming to the US, but so does the country from the diversity, skills, and energy that they bring. Remarkably, most existing evidence suggests that native workers are not harmed by immigrants.”—Daron Acemoglu, Institute Professor of Economics, MIT, and coauthor of Why Nations Fail and The Narrow Corridor
  • “In this fascinating book, Abramitzky and Boustan ingeniously employ the tools of data science to construct the first ‘big data’ account of immigration in America. Combining rigorous statistical analysis with thoughtful narratives, they weave a compelling story about how millions of immigrant families achieved the American Dream over the last century and a half. The result is a set of timely and concrete insights that will help reshape the narrative about immigration and opportunity in the United States.”—Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics, Harvard University
  • While Americans are intensely polarized about immigration, facts and history can help change minds. And Streets of Gold has the facts, millions and millions of them, about the amazing and often-surprising history of American immigration. It is a splendid testament to the power of big data to illuminate our past and what it means for the future.”—Angus Deaton, Nobel laureate, economics, and coauthor of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism
  • Complex in its coverage, uplifting in its message, engaging in its composition, and powerful in its significance, Streets of Gold is a ‘New World Symphony’ in words and numbers. Immigrants today, as in the past, make a better life for themselves. But upward mobility comes through generations, and the success of the immigrant child does not come at the expense of the one with US-born parents. There is greater continuity and harmony in this version of the American Dream than discontinuity and dissonance.”—Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics, Harvard University, and author of Career & Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity
  • “With Streets of Gold, Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan have written a highly engaging book on the enduring but underappreciated success story of American immigration. Interweaving anecdotes drawn from many sources, including their own personal stories, with conclusions drawn from systematic big data analyses using tools from modern economic research, they paint a vivid and wide-ranging picture of the changes in immigration over time and the effects on American society. They take us to meet not only spectacular success stories like Tino Cuellar, who quickly moved from being born in Mexico to graduating from Harvard and becoming a justice on the California supreme court, but also the more common story of Louis Bilchick, whose family moved slowly but steadily up the economic ladder. Along the way, they separate fact and fiction and bust many of the myths that pervade and confuse the current discussion on immigration policy. As an immigrant and American citizen, I highly recommend this inspiring book for anyone interested in the debates on immigration.”

    Guido Imbens, The Applied Econometrics Professor, Stanford University, and Nobel laureate, economics
  • Unprecedented data, empathetic personal histories, joyous writing, practical solutions, and a compelling counter-zeitgeist narrative make Streets of Gold an essential read for all Americans confused by the partisan rancor surrounding immigration. Abramitzky and Boustan demonstrate the travails of first-generation immigrants, the startling economic success of the second generation, the rapid pace of cultural ‘Americanization,’ the lack of wage threat to American-born workers, and the similarity of these patterns for the two waves of immigration bringing Europeans (in the late nineteeth century) and Latin Americans (in the late twentieth century) into our country. Despite all the rancor, we who are of immigrant heritage are reminded how remarkable a country is America.”—David Laitin, Watkins Professor of Political Science, Stanford University
  • The optimism that runs through Streets of Gold—immigrants are and have always been a ‘grand bargain’ for America—is based on the rock-solid evidence of Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan’s rigorous deep dive into millions of census records and filings. The stories they tell then become a powerful means of communicating the truth about the unique phenomenon of the American immigrant experience.”

    Doug Massey, Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
  • A book as timely as it is magisterial. Two of the most respected and accomplished scholars of economic history demonstrate that much of what you thought you knew about the historical experience of immigrants coming to the United States in the past turns out to be wrong. Armed with reams of new data, elegantly written, and meticulously researched, Streets of Gold revisits many of the most pertinent and perplexing social and economic issues in the history of immigration with often-surprising results.”—Joel Mokyr, Northwestern University
  • Streets of Gold is the conversation you always wanted to have about where Americans come from. Abramitzky and Boustan have discovered new ways of answering that question in this fascinating and hard to put down history of American immigration, based on new sources of data, and conveyed by powerful storytelling.”—Alvin E. Roth, Nobel laureate, economics, and author of Who Gets What and Why
  • Streets of Gold is a pathbreaking book. Mining a treasure trove of big data over more than a century, Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan manage to show the surprising continuity between past and present patterns of immigrant integration in the United States. Their data show that most immigrants, even across widely different backgrounds, achieve success over two to three generations, much as in the past. This book is a must-read for those interested in the role of immigration in American society.”—Andrew Selee, president, Migration Policy Institute
  • An absolute treasure, the perfect book on immigration—substantive and data-driven, but leaving room for the stories of immigrants, good and bad. This is a timely book, but it will be read for many years.”—Zack Weinersmith, New York Times–bestselling author of Soonish
  • “Economists Abramitzky and Boustan mount a compelling argument for the success of immigrants in the U.S. for more than 100 years. Drawing on data documenting millions of immigrants from many countries, arriving with varying levels of education and resources, they find strong evidence of immigrants’ upward mobility, assimilation, and contributions to the economy and culture…A well-researched, informative contribution to a contentious—and often misinformed—debate.”—Kirkus
  • “[A] data-driven analysis of not just immigrants but also their legacies.”—Harvard Business Review
  • “[A] n important new analysis of the economic impact of immigration to the United States over the last century or more.”—Reason
  • “Migration myths are contributing to tearing our nation apart. This book, grounded on deep original research and made lively by moving personal accounts, is an essential read. It shows that little has changed in this salad bowl that is our country, neither the migrants’ travails nor their successes nor, sadly, the prejudices they encounter.”—Esther Duflo, McKinsey Summer Reading list
  • “The book brings reams and reams of data to tell the story of immigration to the US over the late 19th and 20th centuries and how it remade both the lives of migrants and the country itself.”—Vox

On Sale
Oct 3, 2023
Page Count
256 pages

Ran Abramitzky

About the Author

Ran Abramitzky is professor of economics and the Senior Associate Dean for the Social Sciences at Stanford University, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and a former co-editor of Explorations in Economic History. Weaving his family story together with extensive economic and historical data, Abramitzky’s prize-winning book, The Mystery of the Kibbutz examines how communities based on income equality survived in Israel for over a century, and the conditions under which more equal societies can thrive.

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Leah Boustan

About the Author

Leah Boustan is professor of economics and director of the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University. She is also co-director of the Development of the American Economy Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and serves as co-editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. Her prize-winning scholarly book, Competition in the Promised Land, examines the effect of the Great Black Migration from the rural South during and after World War II. She has written for The New York Times, The American Prospect, and Slate.

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