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Journal of World History 11.1 (2000) 145-147

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Book Review

The Age of Mass Migration: Causes and Economic Impact

The Age of Mass Migration: Causes and Economic Impact. By Timothy J. Hatton and Jeffrey G. Williamson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. ix + 301. $49.95 (cloth).

The history of migrations has often been treated as part of social history in general and has thus long been the province of social historians who produce traditional narratives. More current migration policy issues have brought in economists with statistical techniques and econometric models. Now, however, the history of migrations is searchingly subjected to modern econometric analysis by economists [End Page 145] Timothy J. Hatton of Essex University and Jeffrey G. Williamson of Harvard in their new book, The Age of Mass Migration.

Although the age of mass migration is defined in this book as being between the mid-nineteenth century and the beginning of World War I, this study is not about all the migrations of that era, but only about the migrations of Europeans to European-offshoot societies in the Western Hemisphere and in Australia and New Zealand. The tens of millions of people who migrated from India to Africa, other Asian countries, Fiji, and the Caribbean are not included, nor are the mass migrations of people from China that transformed the economies of southeast Asia.

Still, the migrations of more than 50 million Europeans from one hemisphere to another cannot be considered a narrow subject, and one must always leave something for others to do. Not only can those who come after benefit from the methods and findings of this study, but those methods and findings may also benefit from having their validity tested by being applied to the migrations of very different peoples to and from different regions of the globe.

The Age of Mass Migration is an intensely analytical book, an economist's book more than a historian's book. Yet its findings have major implications for the assumptions and conclusions of narrative historians. For example, the perennial question of whether immigrants were "pushed" out of Europe by their poverty or "pulled" to the New World by its prosperity is given much more specific operational definition in terms that permit empirical testing with data on real wage rates in the immigrants' respective countries of origin and in their respective countries of destination.

So many factors influence migration simultaneously that it is difficult to disentangle them without multivariate analysis. For example, growing emigrant communities overseas facilitated the voyages of new emigrants by providing money, information, and a familiar social setting abroad. Another facilitating factor was the decline of transportation costs with the rise of the steamship. But the narrowing wage differential between Europe and the Western Hemisphere tended to reduce that flow, as did the fact that emigrants' children had no such ties to the old country as to cause them to help the people there to come join them in the New World. Any attempt to understand how the business cycle affected international migrations must recognize that all these long-run trends were superimposed on the business cycle.

How much various factors contributed to the observed statistics is a quantitative question requiring quantitative methods of estimating the answers. The simple dichotomy of "push" and "pull" is inadequate even as a question. [End Page 146]

As this and other studies have shown, emigrants did not simply leave Europe in general to go to the Western Hemisphere in general. People from particular countries in Europe went to particular countries in the Americas. Indeed, people from particular regions within particular countries in the Old World went to particular regions within particular countries in the New World. This further complicates the analysis and requires it to be redefined to show, for example, the wage differential between specific origins and specific destinations.

Numerous other historical questions are attacked with econometric weapons in The Age of Mass Migrations. Did immigrants take jobs away from natives or contribute to the general economy in ways that increased the total number of jobs...