Value of life study shows Mexican immigrants fare far worse than other immigrants and U.S. natives

Oct 27, 2010

W. Kip Viscusi and Joni HerschIt has been long suspected that Mexican immigrants often work on dangerous and unpleasant jobs for low pay. New research by Vanderbilt University Law School professors Joni Hersch and W. Kip Viscusi provides hard evidence on the risks and rewards for risky jobs. They find that Mexican immigrants are concentrated in jobs with high risk of fatality, but they receive little wage compensation for these risks.

In their study, “Immigrant Status and the Value of Statistical Life,” Hersch and Viscusi, who co-direct Vanderbilt’s Law and Economics Program, found that Mexican immigrants are in jobs with fatality rates more than one-third higher than other workers, but they do not receive higher pay for these risks. In contrast, other immigrant groups are similar to native U.S. workers in both their job risk levels and wage compensation for risk. The study has been published in the Journal of Human Resources.

Read the abstract.

Hersch and Viscusi used U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the Current Population Survey, which has a large sample size, and the New Immigrant Survey, which provides more detail about the characteristics of immigrants than other data sets.

“Non-Mexican immigrants as a group are similar to native U.S. workers in terms of the average job risks they face and their compensation for those risks,” said Viscusi, University Distinguished Professor of Law, Economics and Management. “But Mexican immigrants are the outliers, especially when it comes to fatal injuries.”

Hersch and Viscusi find that the evidence is consistent with the theory that Mexican immigrants face different labor market conditions than do native U.S. workers and even other immigrants who are not Mexican.

– Amy Wolf, Vanderbilt University Public Affairs


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