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Better Work Schedules: A Hidden Benefit of Immigration

Economists have studied the effects of immigration on labor markets for a long time, especially how immigration impacts wages and human capital. However, research on how immigration affects non-wage job characteristics is less common, and the effects of immigrant workers on native job amenities is studied even less.

Purdue University Associate Professor of Economics Timothy Bond and fellow researchers provide a theoretical framework for understanding how immigrants impact native job amenities. Their discussion paper, “Immigration and Work Schedules: Theory and Evidence,” was released by the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) and examines how work schedules might change for U.S. natives when immigrants are hired.

Tim BondBond and his coauthors have built a model that theorizes immigrants are more willing to work nights compared to the native population. They predict that more immigrant workers lead to higher relative daytime wages for native workers and fewer native workers on night shifts.

Using data from the Decennial Censuses, American Community Survey, and American Time Use Survey, their observations confirm the theory. An increase in foreign workers in a local labor market leads to a decrease in the probability of natives working at night and an increase in native daytime wages.

In other words, more immigrant workers means less night shifts for native workers.

There is a large body of evidence to suggest that working nights and the resulting disruption of sleep patterns is a detriment to personal health. Professor Bond’s model estimates that native workers would receive $337 million in health benefits alone from a 10 percentage point increase in the foreign-born population.

These gains may be even larger, since other adverse effects from working nights like emotional well-being and marital stability are hard to measure. Bond and his coauthors have demonstrated that accounting for quality-of-life improvements for natives reveals an often-overlooked benefit of hiring immigrant workers. Without this information, economists may overstate the negative consequences of immigration on the labor market.

The approach that Bond and his colleagues have developed could easily be extended to other job amenities like occupational safety, physical intensity, and job flexibility. Policymakers could use their model to quantify the effects of immigration on these amenities, which provides a more complete picture of immigration’s effects on the labor market and human capital.

Putting a number on the harder-to-observe benefits of immigration means that native workers may be better off than they might think with more immigrant workers.

“People have to work night shifts constantly, so it’s surprising to me that people don’t make the connection that natives have better job amenities because we allow immigrants to move into these positions,” Bond says. Of harder-to-measure job amenities, he says, “I understand why we don’t do a good job of measuring these things, but when we put it all together you would expect that we are constantly undermeasuring the positive effects.”

Writer: Wolf Williams, Purdue University Research Center in Economics Communications Specialist

Media inquiries can be directed to Nicole Brooks, Media Relations, at brook113@purdue.edu and (765) 496-0307.