Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ann Carlos

Second Advisor

Michael Greenwood

Third Advisor

Brian Cadena

Fourth Advisor

Myron Gutmann

Fifth Advisor

Murat Iyigun


Many migrants return back to their home country after a short period of stay. Often these migrants are returning to poorer countries, which is at odds with a simple economic model where individuals maximize lifetime earnings. In this dissertation, I explore the motivations for return migration in the early 1900s, the only time in United States history when the government recorded those leaving the country.

In the first paper, we estimate the effect of the 1920s immigration quotas on (1) out-migration rates, (2) emigration across skill groups, and (3) the duration of temporary migrants' stays in the U.S. Higher quota restrictions reduced emigration rates, mostly for unskilled laborers and farmers. Higher quota restrictions also increased duration of stay, as the share of migrants staying less than 5 years fell and the share staying 5 to 10 years rose.

In the second paper, I turn to the self-selection of return migrants. In addition to observing migrants who actually leave, I also have a dataset on migrants' intentions to leave at arrival. At least 45\% more migrants returned home than had initially planned. While those who planned to return home were negatively self-selected on skill, the negative self-selection intensified at departure. Low-skilled migrants were more likely to experience negative shocks in the United States; these failures drive the result that return migrants were negatively self-selected. However, following migration quotas in the 1920s, return migrants were positively self-selected as the failure rate decreased after a labor supply shock.

In the final paper we estimate the self-selection of Mexican migrants into and out of the United States in the 1920s. Officials recorded migrant height on border crossing manifests, which we use to proxy migrant quality and to measure self-selection into migration in 1920. Migrants were positively selected on height compared to the Mexican population. We link these migrants to the 1930 U.S. and Mexican censuses to obtain samples of permanent and return migrants and to estimate the selection into return migration. Return migrants were not differentially self-selected on height relative to permanent migrants.