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West Indian Immigrants

A Black Success Story?

Suzanne Model

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

About the Author

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p. vii

Map of the Caribbean

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p. ix

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Acknowledgments: Intellectual Debts and Personal Debts

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pp. xi-xv

The chronology of my fascination with West Indian immigrants is a good way of conveying my intellectual debt. The story begins in 1980, when I was a graduate student writing a “comps” paper on African American...

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1. Why Study West Indians?

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pp. 1-11

Not long after the United States government released the results of the 2000 census, a headline in the Boston Globe proclaimed: “Study Shows U.S. Blacks Trailing.” The article revealed that black immigrants were receiving higher household...

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2. Documenting the Difference Between West Indians and African Americans

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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...

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3. Three Explanations for the Differences Between West Indians and African Americans

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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...

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4. Testing the Hypothesis of Selectivity

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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...

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5. Testing the Cultural Hypotheses

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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...

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6. Testing the White Favoritism Hypothesis

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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...

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7. An Immigrant Success Story

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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...

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Methodological Appendix

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pp. 165-184

This appendix offers a description and evaluation of the data and methods used in this study. The main sources of data are censuses, gathered both in the United States and elsewhere, and three waves of the Sociale Positie...


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pp. 185-200


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pp. 201-224


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pp. 225-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781610444002
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871546319

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 609208355
MUSE Marc Record: Download for West Indian Immigrants

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Success -- United States.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Economic conditions.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Blacks -- United States -- Economic conditions.
  • Blacks -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • West Indian Americans -- Economic conditions.
  • West Indian Americans -- Social conditions.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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