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West Indian Immigrants

West Indian Immigrants: A Black Success Story?

Suzanne Model
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    West Indian Immigrants
    Book Description:

    West Indian immigrants to the United States fare better than native-born African Americans on a wide array of economic measures, including labor force participation, earnings, and occupational prestige. Some researchers argue that the root of this difference lies in differing cultural attitudes toward work, while others maintain that white Americans favor West Indian blacks over African Americans, giving them an edge in the workforce. Still others hold that West Indians who emigrate to this country are more ambitious and talented than those they left behind. In West Indian Immigrants, sociologist Suzanne Model subjects these theories to close historical and empirical scrutiny to unravel the mystery of West Indian success. West Indian Immigrants draws on four decades of national census data, surveys of Caribbean emigrants around the world, and historical records dating back to the emergence of the slave trade. Model debunks the notion that growing up in an all-black society is an advantage by showing that immigrants from racially homogeneous and racially heterogeneous areas have identical economic outcomes. Weighing the evidence for white American favoritism, Model compares West Indian immigrants in New York, Toronto, London, and Amsterdam, and finds that, despite variation in the labor markets and ethnic composition of these cities, Caribbean immigrants in these four cities attain similar levels of economic success. Model also looks at “movers” and “stayers” from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana, and finds that emigrants leaving all four countries have more education and hold higher status jobs than those who remain. In this sense, West Indians immigrants are not so different from successful native-born African Americans who have moved within the U.S. to further their careers. Both West Indian immigrants and native-born African-American movers are the “best and the brightest”—they are more literate and hold better jobs than those who stay put. While political debates about the nature of black disadvantage in America have long fixated on West Indians’ relatively favorable economic position, this crucial finding reveals a fundamental flaw in the argument that West Indian success is proof of native-born blacks’ behavioral shortcomings. Proponents of this viewpoint have overlooked the critical role of immigrant self-selection. West Indian Immigrants is a sweeping historical narrative and definitive empirical analysis that promises to change the way we think about what it means to be a black American. Ultimately, Model shows that West Indians aren’t a black success story at all—rather, they are an immigrant success story.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-400-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Map of the Caribbean
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments: Intellectual Debts and Personal Debts
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Chapter 1 Why Study West Indians?
    (pp. 1-11)

    Not long after the United States government released the results of the 2000 census, a headline in theBoston Globeproclaimed: “Study Shows U.S. Blacks Trailing.” The article revealed that black immigrants were receiving higher household incomes and suffering less unemployment than U.S.-born blacks (Rodriguez 2002). Two years later, theNew York Timesreported a similar finding in the educational realm: blacks at Harvard and other elite colleges were disproportionately the offspring of foreign-born parents (Rimer and Arenson 2004).

    In fact, assertions that black immigrants have more favorable social and economic outcomes than African Americans are old news. For about one hundred...

  7. Chapter 2 Documenting the Difference Between West Indians and African Americans
    (pp. 12-48)

    This chapter examines the labor market outcomes of West Indian immigrants, especially those who arrived before 1925 (the first wave) and those who arrived after 1965 (the third wave). Inadequate numbers preclude an in-depth analysis of the second wave. The chapter opens with a comparison of the measurable job-related characteristics of first-wave West Indian movers versus those who stayed home. In all these comparisons, movers emerge as stronger than stayers, which means that the former are positively selected. Yet another question is whether West Indian movers have stronger measurable job-related characteristics than African Americans. With respect to first-wavers, a comparison...

  8. Chapter 3 Three Explanations for the Difference Between West Indians and African Americans
    (pp. 49-70)

    Having demonstrated that even those West Indian immigrants with the same skills, family responsibilities, and residential location as African Americans do better in the labor market than African Americans, the narrative now takes up the question of why. As pointed out earlier, three types of explanations have been offered: those that emphasize culture, those that emphasize selectivity, and those that emphasize white favoritism. Although they are presented here sequentially, they are not mutually exclusive; one, two, or all three of these explanations may be correct.

    The cultural superiority hypothesis comes in two versions: one is primarily historical, the other entirely...

  9. Chapter 4 Testing the Hypothesis of Selectivity
    (pp. 71-88)

    This is the first of three empirical chapters devoted to testing the three explanations for West Indian advantage. It focuses on selectivity because tests of selectivity show very clearly the utility of controlling for the number of years since an immigrant has migrated (YSM). To be sure, including this control is also useful in testing culture and favoritism, but this inclusion is easiest to understand in the case of selectivity. Hence, selectivity is considered first.

    Each of these empirical chapters includes a review of the relevant literature. In the present instance, the review is brief because few studies have examined...

  10. Chapter 5 Testing Cultural Hypotheses
    (pp. 89-115)

    One of the central messages of chapter 3 is that there may be more than one explanation for the advantage that remains when West Indians and African Americans are made “the same” on measured job-related characteristics. Thus, empirical evidence that the selectivity of migration is one explanation does not mean there are no others. This chapter seeks empirical evidence for two cultural benefits that have traditionally been associated with West Indian birth: Sowell’s claim about the positive effects of Caribbean slave autonomy and the popular belief that socialization in an all-black society is advantageous.¹

    In both cases, devising a test-strategy...

  11. Chapter 6 Testing the White Favoritism Hypothesis
    (pp. 116-142)

    Attention now turns to the final explanation for West Indians’ economic advantage over African Americans: white favoritism. More research relevant to this hypothesis has been published than is the case for either the culture or selectivity hypotheses. This chapter reviews the central findings of this literature, which encompasses several methodologies and includes several countries. The discussion then offers two tests of white favoritism. Both take advantage of a theoretical perspective known as queuing theory, which predicts that, if white employers rank West Indian immigrants more favorably than African Americans, then West Indian economic outcomes profit from increasing proportions of African...

  12. Chapter 7 An Immigrant Success Story
    (pp. 143-164)

    This book began by asking: why do black immigrants have stronger labor market outcomes than African Americans? As it turns out, black immigrants from Africa or from the Hispanic Caribbean do not have stronger labor market outcomes than African Americans. And though West Indians display an immediate advantage on labor force participation, unemployment, and occupational prestige, they do not earn more than African Americans until a decade or more after their arrival. Additional scrutiny reveals that a portion of West Indians’ advantage can be attributed to their higher educational achievement, more attractive geographic location, and so on. But controlling for...

  13. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 165-184)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 185-200)
  15. References
    (pp. 201-224)
  16. Index
    (pp. 225-240)