The countries of origin of immigrants to the United States have changed dramatically over the past century. Figure 4a shows that in the early 20th century the overwhelming majority of migrants entering the United States came from Europe. (The areas of the rectangles sum to 100 percent of the total foreign-born population in each year.) Although immigrants were predominantly from Western Europe, significant numbers arrived from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia as well. Today, the makeup of U.S. immigrants is much different: nearly 60 percent of the foreign-born emigrated either from Mexico (which accounted for only 1.6 percent of the foreign-born in 1910) or Asian countries (which accounted for only 1.4 percent in 1910).
India and China now account for the largest share (6.5 and 4.7 percent of all immigrants, respectively) among Asian immigrants, while El Salvador (3.4 percent) and Cuba (2.9 percent) are the primary origin countries in Latin America (after Mexico). As of 2017 immigrants from Germany account for the largest share of European immigrants (only 1.1 percent of all immigrants).
While the countries of origin may be different, there is some similarity in the economic situations of the origin countries in 1910 and today. GDP per capita of Ireland and Italy in 1913 were 45.4 and 33.7 percent, respectively, of U.S. per capita income in 1913, but today Western European GDP per capita is much closer to the U.S. level.* In 2016 Mexico’s per capita income was 29.8 percent of per capita income in the United States (Bolt et al. 2018). Then as now large numbers of immigrants were drawn to relatively strong economic opportunities in the United States (Clark, Hatton, and Williamson 2007).
*Data is used for 1913 instead of 1910 because Bolt et al. (2018) does not include data for Ireland in 1910. The closest year for which the dataset had GDP per capita for the United States, Italy, and Ireland was 1913.