DP15794 Faith and Assimilation: Italian Immigrants in the US

Author(s): Stefano Gagliarducci, Marco Tabellini
Publication Date: February 2021
Keyword(s): Assimilation, Immigration, religious organizations
JEL(s): J15, N31, Z12
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Public Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15794

We study the effects of religious organizations on immigrants' assimilation. We focus on the arrival of Italian Catholic churches in the US between 1900 and 1920, when four million Italians had moved to America, and anti-Catholic sentiments were widespread. We combine newly collected Catholic directories on the presence of Italian churches across years and counties with the full count US Census of Population. We find that Italian churches reduced the social assimilation of Italian immigrants, lowering intermarriage rates and increasing ethnic residential segregation. We find no evidence that this was the result of either lower effort exerted by immigrants to ``fit in'' the American society or increased desire to vertically transmit national culture. Instead, we provide evidence for other two, non-mutually exclusive, mechanisms. First, Italian churches raised the frequency of interactions among fellow Italians, likely generating peer effects and reducing contact with other groups. Second, they increased the salience of the immigrant community among natives, thereby triggering backlash and discrimination.