Go North! Unintended Effects of Immigration Quotas on Science and Invention
National origins quotas restrict immigration based on a person’s country of origins. This paper examines the effects of such quotas under the US Immigration Act of 1924 on American science and innovation. Intended to stem the inflow of unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe the 1924 Act led to a dramatic decline in innovation, with disproportionate effects on arrivals from Eastern and Southern Europe. We investigate whether these changes created unintended effects on US science and invention. Methodologically, our analysis applies topic analyses to matched records on countries of birth, education, research topics, and patents for more than 80,000 American scientists.
Our analysis of scientists’ place of birth and education reveals a dramatic decline in the arrival of Eastern European scientists after 1924, even though the Act had targeted unskilled workers. Moreover, using k-means analyses to identify the fields of Eastern European scientists, we find that the Act triggered a significant decline in inventions by native-born US scientists in fields of Eastern Europeans. Some of the missing Eastern European scientists moved to Canada, leading to an increase in Canadian invention relative to the United States.