Research Statement
Amelie F. Constant
February 2016

My educational background has been in the field of labor economics. I completed my doctoral studies in labor economics and econometrics at Vanderbilt University in 1998. I specialized in the economics of migration and my dissertation focused on the economic assimilation of immigrants in Germany. I completed my Master’s in economic development (DEA) at the University of Paris II in Paris, France, and wrote my master’s thesis about the economic power of Japan, the miracle economy of the 1980s. At the same time, I also pursued studies in European Economics at Paris I (Sorbonne). I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Athens in Athens, Greece with a Bachelor’s in Economics and Mathematics.

During my postdoctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the Population Studies Center I also added economic demography and elements of sociology and other social sciences in my portfolio. Most recently, I delved into program eveluation and the methods of randomized control trials. As a labor economist, I apply principles of labor, perspectives and frameworks while I employ econometric techniques to study topics related to migration, entrepreneurship, education, health and wellbeing with emphasis on gender differences. My basic motive for research is to answer questions that can eventually improve the conditions of minority populations and the marginalized and vulnerable, that they can add to our knowledge, and can be useful to policymakers and the public. This is what stimulates me in pursuing research on the economics of migration.

Below, I summarize and highlight my research. Overall, I have published 62 peer-reviewed articles, edited two books, one Handbook, and three special issues in refereed international academic journals. My work has been well received and has been cited by economists, sociologists, psychologists, and researchers in the health sciences. I have also received awards in recognition of my research achievements such as prizes for individual articles. In fact, two of my papers have ignited scholars to write the theory behind them. I have another 23 “other publications,” such as Policy Papers, Briefs, Op-Eds, and Reports that have been heavily cited and received praise by policymakers, NGOs and stakeholders. Lastly, I have about a dozen discussion papers that are submitted to journals and I am working on a number of new projects in the forefront of my field.

I have always been fascinated with human behavior and being an immigrant myself, it was natural to me to try to understand individual migrant behavior and fit it in the principles and theory available. Studying the earnings assimilation of immigrants in Germany by gender and ethnicity in comparison to natives was the subject of my dissertation. In this empirical work, I combined the theories of human capital and labor market segmentation to explain wage differentials in a longitudinal setting. I was one of the first reserachers to employ the German Socio-Economic Panel in the US in the early 1990s. At the time I was using SAS (often also C language) and LIMDEP.   

I expanded this work during my postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania, working with Doug Massey (now at Princeton). Using the same German Socio-Economic Panel, I examined selection issues, earnings and the out-migration of immigrants as well as the labor market segmentation of guestworkers. Later,
at IZA, with Klaus Zimmermann I extended this work looking at repeat, circular and return migration of immigrants. For this work, I brought the use of Markov chains and created a model in which at each state people decide whether to stay in Germany or return home and whether to stay abroad or return to back to Germany. Applying this to German data, Zimmermann and I were the first to show that having the German passport makes immigrants more likely to return and not having it, makes them more likely to stay in Germany.

When I started working at IZA in 2002, I also brought my self-employment work with me. I extended this research (with Zimmermann) to the entrepreneurial endeavors of immigrants in Germany, while comparing them to native Germans. This work on entrepreneurship was very new and timely. Very hew papers had examined entrepreneurship and the self-employment of immigrants especially in Germany. In the article The Making of Entrepreneurs in Germany: Are Native Men and Immigrants Alike? (published in Small Business Economics with Zimmermann), I provided new methods and empirics and showed that the self-employed fare better than others. But do immigrant women also go into self-employment and do they fare well? Looking at immigrant businesswomen in Germany and comparing them to German natives I authored two papers published in Kyklos and in the International Journal of Manpower. My idea in these papers was that businesswomen need not only be self-employed. Women in companies with decision-making power take just as high risks and make fast decisions as the self-employed ones do. Thus they are de-facto businesswomen.

In the mid-2000s and in combination with a big grant of about USD 800,000 from the Volkswagen Foundation, and following Akerlof and Kranton, I incorporated the idea of “identity” in my research agenda (with Zimmermann). This work on the ethnic identity of immigrants was innovative; a trendsetter. Zimmermann and I were the first to bring these ideas from social psychology, sociology and even political science to economics. The empirical index of the ethnic identity of immigrants, the ethnosizer, that Zimmermann and I created actually measures how ethnic or not a person is irrespective of their country of origin. For example, an Indian and a Pakistani can score the same number of being ethnic in the host country. In an original article
"Ethnosizing Immigrants," published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2009), we identified four states in which an immigrant can be: assimilation, integration, marginalization, and separation. The ethnosizer and related concepts of ethnic diversity, are been since studied by many colleagues. This empirical work inspired the creation of the theory behind it by Epstein and Goldner, published in the IZAJoM.

I further studied the ethnosizer and its impact on labor market outcomes such as labor force participation, earnings, housing, etc. The idea being that people who cling on to their ethnic identity may make different choices and end up at different equilibria, not necessarily the maxima according to neoclassical economics. "Measuring Ethnic Identity and Its Impact on Economic Behavior" was published in the Journal of the European Economic Association in 2008 (with Zimmermann) and shows for the first time the negative quadrants of ethnic identity vis-a-vis the home and host country. While provocative and rather imaginary at the time, ten years later we have evidence of subversive ethnic identity when immigrants turn against the host country. It was natural to extend this work and include the nation-state, which resulted in the “Immigrants, Ethnic Identities and the Nation-State” (with Zimmermann), a deeply thought about chapter combining new behavioral economics ideas, and political science.

My research on ethnic identity also found neat applications using Ukrainian longitudinal data. In this project with M. Kahanec and K. Zimmermann, I examined the ethnic-earnings divide between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians in Ukraine and showed that there are grave ethnic differences related to language. Accordingly, Russian speaking individuals earn more than Ukrainian speaking individuals (paper published in the Economics of Transition, 2012). Extending this work into the political divide in Ukraine, looking at the Orange Revolution, I produced another paper (with Kahanec and Zimmermann). Adding specific questions about the ethnic identity of Ukrainians so we can better study the earnings differentials and political tensions in the country, will be extremely useful for research.

Adding risk proclivity to the study of immigrants and their ethnic identity, I produced more papers that provide tremendous insights in the economic behavior of immigrants in the host country. Using the German Socio-Economic Panel,
with co-authors (H. Bonin, K. Tatsiramos, K. Zimmermann) we brought to light new and unexpected findings about migrants. We were the first to show empirically that while immigrants may be self-selected to be more risk-loving than their left-behind compatriots (since they undertake the trip), they become risk-averse after they arrive and live in the host country. In addition, first generation immigrants are less risk-loving than native Germans and the second generation immigrants are more risk-loving than the first and approach natives. The article "Ethnic persistence, assimilation and risk proclivity" published in the IZAJoM (2012) has more than 10,700 downloads.

Employing other datasets, such as unique and freshly available data on the unemployed in Germany, I incorporated the ideas of economic preferences, personality traits, attitudes, and reference standards. In one paper, in particular, I examine the employability of unemployed immigrants and how fast they accept a job offer by using their reservation wages (with A. Krause, U. Rinne, and K. Zimmermann). Interestingly, we find that the first generation immigrants have lower reservation wages than comparable native Germans, they actually accept job offers fast, but they do not stay employed for long and return to unemployment. In contrast, the second generation immigrants have higher reservation wages than Germans and stay unemployed longer as they do not accept job offers easily.

Using the NLSY, with Spyros Konstantopoulos, I studied the school effects and labor market outcomes for young adults in the 1980s and 1990s and how school characteristics are linked to labor market performance, using multilevel models. This work was interesting in disaggregating the effects by sex and race in the US. Additional research on education I did for the “Danish-German” project, a collaborative work between IZA and Rockwool Foundation, in which we collected data on the same immigrant groups in the two respective countries. The Danish project culminated in the book Migrants, Work, and Welfare State (2005). Besides studying the human capital of immigrants and natives in a comparative setting, I studied and investigated selection and earnings, self-employment, employment trends and welfare benefits (with co-authors). The fascinating aspect of this research was to try and disentangle the cause of wages differentials between immigrants in Denmark and Germany; reconstructing the counterfactual and identify the country or individual effect was a big part of this research.

Immigrants in France were hardly looked at in the early 2000s, mostly due to the nonavailability of data. In my chapter "Immigrant Adjustment in France and Impacts on the Natives" (2005), I showed how France and its Republican ideals of enlightenment has failed to integrate its second generation immigrants, who are French citizens. To effectively manage and successfuly integrate immigrants it takes more than written laws. Institutions, labor markets, economic growth and attitudes are very important.

The International Handbook on the Economics of Migration, edited with Zimmermann, is a unique handbook that captures the present and the future in the field. This is the first handbook to appear and includes chapters/topics never published before such as migrants, wages and obesity; child labor migrants; natural disasters and migration; migration and religiosity; immigrants time use; and the left behind. While the handbook is commissioned work, it still augments the knowledge in the field because it contains these new ideas and because of the way we put everything together. The handbook has been already critically acclaimed and reviewed in Romanian Journal of Regional Sciences, Population and Development Review, Papers in Regional Science, Journal of Economic Literature, Eastern Economic Journal, Journal of Economics, and Canadian Studies in Population. Ideas from the handbook have since inspired future work in certain areas, which attests to the quality of the book.

My current work focuses on topical and emerging socioeconomic issues both domestically and internationally. I am collaborating with various colleagues on several different projects. My novel work on migration and happiness is incorporating the notion of wellbeing (life satisfaction or happiness) directly into the utility function and trying to establish a causal relationship between ethnic diversity or multiculturality and the happiness of natives. In this ground breaking work (with A. Akay and C. Giulietti) we were the first to study the impact of immigration (measured by the immigration rate in a locality) on the happiness of other immigrants and native Germans. The upshot of this work, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2014) is that more immigration makes native Germans happy, while it makes immigrants less happy. Our findings are not driven by reverse causality, selectivity or confounding local labor market attributes. The wellbeing domains particularly affected by the immigration rate are dwelling and leisure. I am proud to say that this novel work inspired once again the theory behind it by Oded Stark et al. in JEBO (The impact of the assimilation of migrants on the well-being of native inhabitants: A theory). In the beginning (as with my previous projects) quantifying the unquantifiable and bringing other social sciences’ ideas into economics was intriguing and fun. Little did we know that now we are entirely into a new research area that many colleagues follow.

Networks, social capital, spatial distribution and the ethnic capital is a fresh research that I am currently working on. With colleagues Schueller and Zimmermann, I try to establish a causal relationship between ethnic spatial clustering and immigrants’ socio-cultural integration. Using German data, we create a quasi-experimental setting and test the alternative theories of cultural conformity and cultural distinction. We find that local co-ethnic concentration affects immigrants’ ethnic self-identification and cultural integration, that residential ethnic clustering strengthens immigrants’ retention of their affiliation with their country of origin and weakens their identification with the host country. Our findings are robust to the use of an instrumental variable approach.

Health and especially the health of older immigrants and natives is a rather new line of research for me. With colleagues S. Neuman and T. Garcia-Munoz, we wanted to study and investigate the health status of immigrants compared to natives. Using the European data SHARE we show that immigrants in Europe have better self-reported health than comparable natives when they first arrive in the host country. Paradoxically, their health deteriorates with additional years of residence in the host country (a healthy immigrant paradox). However, our comparison study between 16 European countries and Israel, revealed a “sick” immigrant effect for Israel. this research deals more with selection issues and has a strong policy bent. Israel is a unique country in that it does not impose any health screening or requirements upon prospective migrants of Jewish decent.

To summarize, I have a long-standing rich research agenda that incorporates cutting-edge work that aims to ultimately inform important policy issues. I have been fortunate to work on issues that are not only important to me, but also significant to many people in different countries. I also had the privilege to collaborate with exceptional colleagues with whom I exchanged ideas, learned from, and provided support to them. Above all, I feel that my experience in interacting and advising policymakers and decision-makers has enriched me and given me a better understanding about research and the labor markets. My policy experience has also validated my position that policy advice cannot stand alone, but needs to be backed up by evidence-based and unbiased research.