When Cumulative Causation Conflicts with Relative Economic Opportunity: Recent Change in the Hispanic Population of the United States

David M. Heer

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The theory of cumulative causation, originated by Gunnar Myrdal and elaborated by Douglas Massey, implies that a given migration stream normally increases over time. Nevertheless, both Myrdal and Massey recognized that a process of cumulative causation could not continue indefinitely. To explain how this process might cease, I advance a twopart
hypothesis applying to a group with little education or English fluency, such as Hispanic immigrants to the United States, which is thereby eligible to fill only a limited subset of jobs. First, the higher the percentage of Hispanics in a population in a given destination, the lower the relative economic opportunity in that area. Second, the lower the relative economic opportunity in a given area, the lower the subsequent rate of population growth for Hispanic immigrants in that area. The results of the quantitative analysis suggest that relative economic opportunity did have a major influence in counteracting the effects associated with the theory of cumulative causation.


La teoría de la causalidad acumulada, creada por Gunnar Myrdal y elaborada por Douglas Massey, sugiere que un flujo migratorio normalmente aumenta con el tiempo. Sin embargo, Myrdal y Massey reconocen que un proceso de causalidad acumulada no puede continuar indefinidamente. Para explicar cómo puede cesar este proceso, se propone una hipótesis compuesta de dos partes, aplicándola a un grupo que tiene un nivel bajo de educación y poco dominio del inglés, como los inmigrantes hispanos en Estados Unidos, que los hace elegibles para ocupar sólo una porción limitada de empleos. En primer lugar, cuanto más alto es el porcentaje de hispanos en la población de un destino determinado, menor es la oportunidad económica relativa en dicha área. En segundo lugar, cuanto menor es la oportunidad económica relativa en un área determinada, menor será el crecimiento subsecuente de la población hispana en esa área. Los resultados del análisis cuantitativo sugieren que la oportunidad económica relativa tiene una influencia importante en contrarrestar los efectos asociados con la teoría de la causalidad acumulada.

Keywords: international migration; labor markets; cumulative causation; Hispanic; United States

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