Abigail Cooke: Does Immigrant Diversity Make Urban Workers More Productive?

Abigail Cooke is an assistant professor of geography at the University at Buffalo (UB). She is an economic geographer with particular interests in how trade and competition shape regional economies. Her dissertation examined the labor market effects across the U.S. of rising trade from low-wage countries, observing impacts on wages, wage inequality, and plant closures. She earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in geography in 2014. Prior to teaching at UB, she worked in the U.S. Census Bureau's Research Data Center network.


This [lecture] seeks to measure how interactions among increasingly immigrant-diverse urban labor markets may generate spillovers that either raise or reduce productivity. Theory suggests both are possible. The presence of immigrant-diverse individuals could improve economic outcomes by bringing together and cross-pollinating different perspectives and heuristics. Or, it could reduce productivity by making co-operation more costly. The [lecture] addresses several critical gaps in the literature, most importantly: studies have not adequately dealt with worker sorting across space based on unobservable characteristics; and most studies ignore workplace-level effects, including the possibility that diversity might matter at the level of organizations, not cities. Using the Census Bureau's Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data, we focus on a panel of "stayers" — individual workers who remain in a job for multiple years. Variation comes from the shifting of workers in and out of the cities and establishments where the stayers live and work. Observing the effect on annual wages, our key independent variable is a measure of metropolitan birthplace diversity, and we control for establishment diversity with similar measures at this scale.