chapter  20
26 Pages

German immigrants in the mass migration era

Emigration is a choice. Personal characteristics such as age, gender, family status, occupation, and education affect that choice. Across these characteristics, emigrants are seldom a random draw out of the populations from which they came, nor are they representative of the populations into which they enter. Emigration is not only a transfer of raw labor, but a transfer of wealth-humancapital investments in occupational skills and education-from one country to another. Knowing the characteristics of the emigrants is important to assessing the impact this transfer had on the economies of the sending and the receiving countries.1 The economic gains from permanently changing locations are realized over a lifetime. When the ratio of skilled to unskilled wages is higher in the U.S., these lifetime gains are greater for those with non-location-specific trade skills. The gains from emigrating attract adults who can realize the most benefits over their remaining lifetime, namely those who are younger, healthier, male, and already possessing some non-location-specific occupational and educational skills. By contrast, the cost of migrating is paid up front. The cost of emigration favors adults with enough wealth to pay the cost of migration out of accumulated savings and adults without difficult-to-transfer familial obligations and occupational connections. The costs and the benefits of migration pull adult emigrant characteristics in opposite directions. Adults who are very young typically do not have enough savings to pay the upfront cost of migration. In addition, their trade skills are not fully developed. Skill quality and wealth increase with age, making migration easier and more attractive. However, as adults age the time over which the accumulated benefits from relocating can be realized is shortened, reducing the incentive to migrate. In addition, as adults age they form families, acquire dependents, and possess location-specific investments in skills, occupations, and capital goods, which increase the cost of migrating (Chapter 7). In the colonial era, the high cost of migrating and the presence of servant markets affected the emigration choice and so the characteristics of the emigrants. Transatlantic immigrant servants were overwhelmingly male, single, and between the ages of 15 and 25, though less so among Germans than among the British and Irish. Young single adults, especially males, could overcome their

inability to pay for transatlantic passage out of accumulated savings by purchasing it through servitude. The same was true for young families. Accompanying spouses and children raised the cost of migration, placing it beyond the resources of many young families. However, this added cost could be covered by having some dependents enter servitude to pay for that cost. The prospect of being an indentured servant in America, however, held many back from emigrating.2 The transition from the founding to the mass migration era was accompanied by a dramatic fall in the cost of migration and the disappearance of organized markets for German immigrant servants. These changes altered the emigration choice. It clearly increased the numbers moving (Chapter 19). Whether it changed the characteristics of those moving is harder to deduce. Among adults, the fall in the cost of migration widened the age and occupational range within which migration was a net benefit. It also increased the ability of single females and families with dependents to pay for migration out of accumulated savings. The disappearance of organized markets for immigrant servants, however, meant that adults without wealth or some other assistance-typically the young, unskilled, and newly married-could no longer secure passage to America by borrowing on their future labor through selling themselves into servitude. Whether the age, gender, family status, occupational, and educational characteristics of German immigrants in the founding era (Chapters 5-8) differed from that in the mass migration era can be settled only through empirical investigation. Yearly time series of these characteristics for German immigrants to the U.S. during the mass migration era, comparable to the characteristics measured in the founding era, potentially can be constructed. The complete age, family, and occupational distributions per year are distillable from the U.S. customs passenger lists (Carter 2006: vol. 1, 523-64; Cohn 2009: 19-20). These lists for Germans arrivals from 1840 to 1897 have been transcribed and published (Glazier and Filby 1988-2002; Glazier 2002-4). In addition, the lists for all passengers landing between 1820 and 1834 at select U.S. ports have been transcribed and published (Bentley 1999; Tepper 1982). To my knowledge, however, a fully controlled completely disaggregated cross-tabulation of this evidence has yet to be done. Doing such would require a multi-year commitment of time and resources. Besides the time and effort required to computerize this massive data set, difficult questions about how to code, consolidate, and interpret the data entries would need to be addressed and investigated before the results were usable (e.g. see Cohn 2009: 14-46, 98-124). Such cannot be done here, but it is a valuable project that future scholars should undertake. In the absence of such an empirical exercise, the existing published crosstabulations of the U.S. immigration and German emigration data are employed to construct yearly time series of passenger characteristics. They are not disaggregated enough, however, to isolate the characteristics of interest. For example, the full family structure by ethnicity by year, the full age distribution by gender by ethnicity by year, and the occupational distribution by ethnicity by age by gender by year are not tabulated. In their place, I use the published data

tabulations that track the percentage male by ethnicity by year, the percentage in particular age categories by ethnicity by year, and the occupations of arrivals by year. These data are re-manipulated to infer changes over time in the family and adult male occupational structures of German immigrants to the U.S., as well as to compare these structures to those for other U.S. immigrants during the mass migration era and to those for German immigrants during the founding era.