Migration, Bureaucratic Reform and Institutional Persistence

Migration, Bureaucratic Reform and Institutional Persistence:
Evidence from US Municipalities
Alexander Bolton1 , James R. Hollyer2 , and Leonard Wantchekon3
Princeton University
University of Minnesota
Princeton University
March 2014
The manner with which a government recruits its bureaucratic agents impacts state capacity, public
goods provision, levels of corruption, and economic performance. In this paper, we examine the determinants of meritocratic (as opposed to patronage-based) recruitment. To do so, we exploit a shock
to the composition of the US electorate and labor force: mass migration from the close of the 19th
through the beginning of the 20th century. We exploit variation in the composition of migration and
in institutional forms at the municipal level to assess a series of explanations for merit reform. These
explanations stress the importance of culture, human capital, economic performance, and social cleavages. Our preliminary results indicate support for cultural and human capital-based explanations of
reform. As work progresses, we intend to further assess whether historical shocks brought about by
immigration had persistent effects on government performance, mediated by institutional changes.
The creation of a professionalized apolitical civil service is a critical step in the evolution of state capacity. Governments that have adopted meritocratic civil service reforms provide more public goods, experience lower levels of corruption, and – perhaps as a result – achieve more rapid rates of economic growth
than states that rely on patronage to staff bureaucratic offices (see, respectively, Rauch, 1995; Rauch and
Evans, 2000; Evans and Rauch, 1999).1 The decision to adopt civil service reforms thus has important
implications both for the evolution of the state and for economic development.
In this paper, we examine the adoption of civil service reforms by US municipalities in the late-19th
and early-20th centuries. Specifically, we examine the effects of an enormous shock to the composition of
municipal labor forces and electorates that took place during this time – the influx of more than 17 million
migrants into the US around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century (Goldin, 1993). We examine a variety
of avenues through with migration might impact civil service reform – through changes to the cultural
composition of cities, changes in their levels of human capital, changes in the level of fractionalization
among ethnic groups, and changes in the polarization of ethnic groups. And we assess whether the
institutional changes induced by these shocks have persistent effects on levels of corruption, public goods
delivery, and measures of state capacity through to the present day.
To presage our results (to date):2 Raw measures of the percentage of immigrants in a municipality’s
population are only weakly correlated with the adoption of civil service reforms. However, there appears to
be a strong relationship between the percentage of Northern and Western European immigrants and the
adoption of civil service boards – the percentage of immigrants from other source countries is typically not
significantly – and in the case of central and eastern European immigrants, negatively – correlated with
reform. These results persist after controlling for literacy levels (in English), suggesting that the effect of
immigration may be due to cultural factors, rather than due to the high levels of human capital possessed by
Northern and Western European immigrants. Nor does it appear that immigration’s effect is mediated by its
influence on levels of cultural fractionalization or polarization. Northern and Western European immigration
appears to correlate slightly with measures of government performance in the present day.
We proceed as follows: First, we discuss the history of civil service reform and immigration in the
late-19th and early-20th centuries, and why scholars have pointed to links between these two phenomena.
Section 2 discusses in detail the mechanisms through which immigration shocks might influence civil service adoption. We develop four competing hypotheses relating to these various mechanisms, which we
subject to empirical scrutiny. Section 3 discusses the related literature. Sections 4 and 5 discuss the data
and methods we employ, and present our empirical results to date. Section 6 discusses steps we plan to
take as we continue to advance this project. Finally, Section 7 concludes.
Krause, Lewis and Douglas (2006) contend that bureaucratic performance is maximized by a mixed system of meritocratic and
political appointments to the bureaucracy. The former, they argue, increase bureaucratic competence; while the latter addresses
agency problems between the elected executive and her subordinates.
Our work on this project remains on-going.
Migration and Reform
The latter half of the 19th century, and the first few decades of the 20th, witnessed one of the most profound
transformations of US society and demographics in the nation’s history. A massive surge in immigration
had dramatic effects on American culture, on the labor market, and on politics. Abramitzky, Boustan
and Eriksson (2012) estimate that, between 1850 and 1913, the US experienced an inflow of 30 million
immigrants. Goldin (1993) notes that 17 million immigrants arrived on US shores in the 25 years to 1921.
This inflow was attributable, in part, to the US government’s open-door policy with regards to (European)
immigration: prior to the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, such immigration was virtually unrestricted (Goldin,
This surge in immigration coincided with a substantial transformation of American political institutions,
often termed the Age of Reform. Beginning with the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 affecting the
federal bureaucracy and the creation of municipal civil service boards in such cities as Boston (1885), a
wave of ‘good government’ reforms was launched at the federal, state and municipal levels (Civil Service
Agencies in the United States: A 1937 Census, 1938). This wave of reforms would reach its height in the
early 20th century, when the governing institutions of many US cities were radically restructured – including
not only the creation of civil services, but also the appointing of city counselors and the replacement
of mayors and city councils with commissions with dual executive and legislative powers (Rauch, 1995).
Though the Age of Reform largely concluded by the 1930s, several states would not create systematic civil
service procedures until well-past mid-century (Folke, Hirano and Snyder, 2011). The Age of Reform thus
left considerable variation in the structures of local state and municipal governments as its legacy.
The links between these two trends – immigration and the Age of Reform – have often been commented
upon by both historians and political scientists. Notably, urban political ‘machines’ – which were built largely
through patronage politics – relied heavily on immigrants as members. For instance, the Tammany Hall
Democrats of William ‘Boss’ Tweed catered to the interests of Irish working class immigrants – both in terms
of policies and in terms of appointments to bureaucratic and party offices (Ackerman, 2005). Many years
later, Richard Daley rose to political prominence in Chicago through Irish social and political organizations
in the Bridgeport neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. He later came to dominate Chicago politics
through a political machine that relied heavily on working class first- and second-generation immigrant
support, loosely allied to an analogous clientelistic organization that operated in African-American districts
on the South Side headed by Congressman William Dawson (Royko, 1971).
The reliance of urban political machines on immigrant support fostered theories linking immigration
and reform in the academic literature. For instance, Banfield and Wilson (1963) suggest that immigrant
constituencies played a prominent role in determining the shape of US municipal politics. Their explanation
centers on the causal role of culture. An ‘Anglo-Saxon’ ethos, they contend, prevails among native born
The open-door did not extend to non-European immigrants. Notably, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 effectively baned
Chinese immigration. Restrictions on Japanese immigration were agreed to in the bilateral ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ with the
government of Japan in 1907.
Americans and British descendants. This ethos stresses the ethical and practical necessity of a competent
and impartial state. Government administration should be impartial – a crucial tenet of equality before
the law. In essence, this ethos conformed with the ideals of the Weberian state (see Gerth and Mills,
1970).4 By contrast, many immigrants – particularly those from Southern and Eastern Europe – possessed
an alternative ethos, according to Banfield and Wilson. This ethos stressed communitarian values and
lines of mutual reciprocity and allegiances. “It was chiefly upon this system of values that the political
life of the immigrant, the boss, and the urban machine was based,” (Banfield and Wilson, 1963, 46).
Consequently, areas in which immigrants – particularly immigrants who arrived during the second wave of
European immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe – were predominant were, according to Banfield
and Wilson, less likely to participate in the Age of Reform.
Wolfinger and Field (1966), however, find little evidence in support of the claim that areas with substantial immigrant populations were more prone to patronage politics than any others. In a series of bivariate
analyses, they fail to reject a null hypothesis that the size of immigrant populations is uncorrelated with
the adoption of political institutions (including civil service bodies) promoted during the Age of Reform.
Indeed, in a multivariate analysis of the adoption of state-level civil service reforms, Ruhil and Camões
(2003) find that states with larger immigrant populations were more likely to adopt meritocracy than those
that experienced a smaller influx of immigrants.
The literature on immigration and civil service reform has thus variously contended migrants inhibit
(Banfield and Wilson, 1963), promote (Ruhil and Camões, 2003) and have no significant relationship with
(Wolfinger and Field, 1966) reform. We attempt to adjudicate between these findings. We also attempt to
delineate which mechanism might link immigration to bureaucratic reforms. Finally, we assess the extent
to which any differences in the timing of reform have had a persistent impact on state capacity. RodriguezPose and von Berlepsch (2012), for instance, find a persistent effect of historical levels of immigration on
economic development in the US States. We seek to determine whether one causal mechanism driving
this relationship is mediated by political institutions: immigration → civil service reform in the past →
institutional performance today → current economic outcomes.
Existing studies of immigration and the adoption of the civil service are either qualitative in nature or simply relate the adoption of meritocracy to the total percentage of immigrants in the population. While such
relationships may point to an associational – or perhaps even a causal – relationship between immigration
and reform, they do little to illustrate the mechanisms through which this relationship operates. Competing
theoretical mechanisms suggest more nuanced relationships between immigration and reform. We assess the empirical leverage of these mechanisms using disaggregated measures of immigration based on
information made available in the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) dataset.
Indeed, this argument clearly echoes Weber’s (2002/1905) ‘protestant ethic.’
Take, for instance, Banfield and Wilson’s (1963) claim that the cultural ethos predominant in a population influences the shape of political institutions. For this mechanism to yield empirical claims regarding
the aggregate stock of immigrants, it must be the case that the preponderance of immigrants carry with
them a culture that is more prone to clientelism than that of native born citizens (this point is also raised
by Wolfinger and Field, 1966). Even if relationship holds for immigrants and the native born in the US as a
whole, one would expect to see considerable variation in the effects of migrants from different cultural backgrounds when looking at the municipal level. At the municipal level, the national background of immigrant
groups varies considerably and, presumably, so too will the cultural ethos of these groups.
Many migrants came from areas with a far longer history of meritocratic governance than that in the
US. Prussia first began using civil service exams to staff bureaucratic offices in the mid-eighteenth century.
Sweden included sweeping protections for tenure (and requirements for open competition for offices) in
the opening years of the 19th century (Hollyer, 2011a). Seemingly, immigrants from these societies would
carry with them a Weberian ethos that perhaps even exceeded that of the native born US population. If
true, the cultural ethos claim should predict that the effect of immigration on civil service reforms should
vary systematically with the composition of immigrants. Immigrants from countries with a long experience
of civil service systems may promote the adoption of reforms; those from areas with a history of patronage
politics should hinder such reforms.
This claim echoes arguments advanced by several recent studies of the relationship between culture,
economic policies and governance. For instance, Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales (2006) contend that culture may influence individual preferences and expectations in a way that may shape political and economic
equilibria (see also, Scheve and Stasavage, 2006). They find that preferences over redistribution persist
in immigrant populations – even several generations after first entry. One might expect preferences and
expectations regarding the appropriateness of government actions to shape the voting decisions and political behavior of immigrant populations. Immigrants who view patronage politics as an inappropriate abuse
of power by the state may be inclined to support reform-minded candidates for political office. Given the
reliance of patronage on long-term reciprocal exchanges, political leaders may find patronage unprofitable
in an environment where citizens lack any expectation that the clientalistic provision of benefits should be
rewarded. One would therefore expect that immigration from source countries where patronage is prevalent would inhibit civil service reform, while immigration from countries with a long history of meritocracy
would have the reverse effect.
Hypothesis 1: The relationship between the percentage of immigrants in a given municipal
population and the hazard of adopting civil service reforms is conditional upon the historical
experience of meritocratic government in the source countries from which those immigrants
The country-of-origin of immigrant populations might affect the adoption of civil service reforms through
mechanisms beyond culture, however. Notably, an influx of immigrants is likely to substantially shift the
distribution of human capital in a given municipality – that is it will likely alter the average education levels
prevailing among the citizenry. Immigrants from societies with extensive education systems are more likely
– ceteris paribus – to themselves be highly educated. Consequently, the relationship between immigration
and civil service reform may well be conditional on prevailing education levels in source countries.
An educated populace may promote the adoption of civil service reforms through at least two mechanisms. First, education may play a role in promoting the adoption of impartial democratic forms of governance more generally. For instance, Lipset (1959, 79) contends that
Education presumably broadens men’s outlooks, enables them to understand the need for
norms of tolerance, restrains them from adhering to extremist and monistic doctrines, and
increases their capacity to make rational decisions.
Glaeser et al. (2004) lend further credence to these claims with their finding that increases in education levels under autocracy often presage democratization (see also Castelló-Climent, 2008). Education may thus
increase preferences for impartial administration, reducing citizens’ tolerance of patronage and promoting
the adoption of civil service reforms.
Alternatively, increases in prevailing education levels may influence the adoption of reform by virtue
of considerations of self-interest. Educated citizens are more likely to satisfy meritocratic criteria for appointment to government posts under a civil service system than are uneducated citizens. The relationship
between educational qualification and appointment under patronage is likely to be weaker than under a
civil service system. Thus, highly educated citizens may demand civil service reforms for self-interested
Hypothesis 2: The relationship between the percentage of immigrants in a given municipality
and the hazard of adopting civil service reforms is conditional upon the prevailing level of
education in the source countries from which those immigrants originate.
A third mechanism through which immigration might impact civil service adoption is economic. Immigration represents an expansion of the existing labor supply, and – importantly – a broadening of the
set of skills available for production. This shock to the economy affects two parameters that have been
highlighted as significant for bureaucratic recruitment: (1) income levels and (2) wage dispersion.
A substantial literature in labor economics has documented a positive effect of immigration on per
capita economic output. This effect is posited to operate through skill complementarities. Immigrants act as
imperfect substitutes for native born workers, with sets of skills not available in the native workforce. These
skills act as complements in production, as individuals are able to specialize in those areas of production to
which their cultural and educational background leave them particularly well-suited. Increasing the diversity
of the workforce thus increases per capita productivity.5 Ottaviano and Peri (2005) and Ottaviano and
Peri (2006) find that immigration positively affects productivity and average wages in destination locales,
Other claims suggest that productivity should be non-monotonic in diversity, and will follow an inverted-U shaped pattern
(Alesina, Harnoss and Rapoport, 2013; Ashraf and Galor, 2011). These authors argue that diversity has a positive direct impact
on production, but a negative effect insofar as diversity fosters social strife. We discuss the potentially negative political effects of
diversity in greater detail below.
and argue that this effect operates through the skill-diversity mechanism. More directly, Alesina, Harnoss
and Rapoport (2013) note an initially positive – though non-monotonic – effect of birthplace diversity on
productivity. And Ager and Brückner (2010) find that cultural fractionalization – resulting from immigration
– boosts economic output in US counties during the period we examine.
Such changes in the composition of skills will also have effects on the dispersion of wages. Skill
complementarity implies an increase in productivity which should boost wages throughout the economy.
But, immigration also boosts the supply of labor – particularly relatively unskilled labor. Immigrants act as
imperfect substitutes for native born low-skilled laborers – since cultural factors imply that their skill sets
are not identical (Ottaviano and Peri, 2006). But, immigrant labor may nonetheless substitute for unskilled
native labor, implying that the concomitant increase in the labor supply will tend to hold down unskilled
wages (on the political implications of the substitutablity of immigrant and unskilled native labor, see Goldin,
1993; Scheve and Slaughter, 2001). Increases in diversity brought about via immigration will thus have
an unambiguously positive effect on the returns to capital and to skilled labor, and an ambiguous effect
on the returns to unskilled labor – as, for unskilled laborers, the contrasting forces of rising productivity
and increased competition tend to offset one another. Wage inequality will therefore increase. Indeed,
Ottaviano and Peri (2006) find evidence for such effects based on immigration to the US in the 1990s.
Both income levels and wage dispersion have been directly linked to the adoption of meritocratic institutions. Many claim, for instance, that patronage politics tends to target economically disadvantaged
populations. Chubb (1982) finds that, in the presence of scarcity, political parties often act as the only
means through which individuals can advance or access crucial resources. Political machines may exercise monopolies over state resources and political offices to manipulate the hopes of poor citizens, ensuring
their loyalty and the party’s continued grasp on power. She offers extensive evidence of such behavior by
the Italian Christian Democratic Party in Palermo from the 1950s through the 1970s. Similarly, Stokes
(2005) and Nichter (2008) hold that vote/turnout buying campaigns by machine-based parties are most
effective when employed on poor citizens, for whom the marginal returns to income are highest. Rising
citizen incomes may thus lessen the ability of political machines to manipulate scarce resources – and may
lessen the buying power of those resources they do possess – weakening the grasp of patronage politics
and increasing the likelihood of civil service reform.
Hollyer (2011b) and Sorauf (1960) stress the importance of wage dispersion to bureaucratic recruitment. Both note that patronage mechanisms must operate in a labor market. Patronage, in its essence,
consists of providing offices that return above market rents to officials who offer political services in return.
As private sector wages rise, either the political services that may be demanded in exchange for office
must fall, or citizens will opt out of the patronage workforce. Therefore, as the private sector skill premium
rises, either skilled workers will tend to opt out of the patronage mechanism – as their efforts are more
highly valued in the private sector – or politicians will need to demand less in terms of political services,
diminishing the value of the patronage apparatus. In either event, the value of the patronage system will
decline relative to that of meritocracy, either because patronage generates less in terms of political service
or because the competence of government service declines. Thus, as the private sector skill premium
rises, civil service reforms are more likely to be adopted.
Both per capita incomes and the skill premium are likely to rise most rapidly when immigration serves
to broaden the set of skills available for production. Following the labor economics literature, we contend
that this breadth of skills is likely to be larger, ceteris paribus, when the ethnic composition of a given
municipality is highly fractionalized. Immigration thus influences merit reform only insofar as it increases
municipality fractionaliztion.
Hypothesis 3: Immigration is associated with the hazard of civil service reform only insofar
as it increases the ethnic fractionalization of the destination municipality. Higher levels of
fractionalization are associated with an increased hazard for civil service reform.
Of course, diversity need not only have positive implications for economic development, and consequently for civil service reform. Diversity may also give rise to ethnic conflicts, leading to an under-provision
of public goods (Easterly and Levine, 1997). In this account, diversity gives rise to inter-group conflict,
which leads to a reduction in investments in communal goods, such as good governance.
However, politics is most likely to break down along ethnic lines under particular sets of circumstances
(Chandra, 2006). Ethnic ties are most likely to form salient political cleavages when ethnic groups are sufficiently large to credibly influence political outcomes (Posner, 2004). Thus, a community defined by many
small ethic groups – i.e., one that is highly fractionalized – is less likely to suffer from the political conflicts
induced by diversity than one that is dominated by a small number of large groups – i.e., a community that
is highly polarized (Huber, 2012). Thus Ager and Brückner (2010) find that fractionalization is associated
with increased levels of development – brought on by the skill diversity effects described above – while
polarization is associated with the reverse in a sample of US counties during the 1870-1920 period.
Polarization is likely to have particularly negative impacts on the adoption of reforms aimed at improving
state capacity. When society is divided between highly polarized groups, each of which has some chance
of attaining power, all such groups have an incentive to cripple the state to ensure that the others cannot
abuse governmental power when they assume office (Acemoglu, Ticchi and Vindigni, 2011; Besley and
Persson, 2010). Political parties that compete in highly polarized municipalities would thus have little
incentive to pursue civil service reforms, given the danger than an effective bureaucracy could simply
better enable its opponents to pursue ends of which it disapproves.
Hypothesis 4: Immigration is associated with the hazard of civil service reform insofar as it
increases/decreases the ethnic polarization of the destination municipality. Higher levels of
polarization are associated with a reduced hazard of civil service reform.
In what follows, we test the these four competing hypotheses, as well as the more general claim that the
total size of immigrant populations correlates with the adoption of civil service boards in US municipalities
during the Age of Reform.
Existing Literature
This paper closely relates to the literature on the adoption of meritocratic reforms in the bureaucracy, and
on the development of state capacity more generally. Unlike the bulk of this literature, however, we focus
on the role demographic, economic and cultural factors play in shaping institutional equilibria. By contrast,
most exiting studies focus on the interests and interactions political elites in determining the prospects for
Political competition plays an important role in many existing studies – to contrasting effect. On the
one hand, competition creates an incentive to maintain patronage systems: no party wishes to unilaterally
disarm itself by forgoing the electoral advantages offered by patronage appointments when faced with
a strong challenger (Geddes, 1994; Robinson and Verdier, 2003). Yet the threat of turnover in office may
create incentives for incumbents to establish civil service reforms. The history of the Pendleton Act – which
established the civil service system at the federal level in the US – suggests that incumbent leaders may
expand civil service protections to ensure that their patronage appointees will not be arbitrarily removed by
a successor government (Skowronek, 1982). More generally, electorally weak incumbents may wish to tie
the hands of opposition successors by preventing the use of future patronage appointments (Folke, Hirano
and Snyder, 2011; Mueller, 2009; Ting et al., Forthcoming).
On the other hand, turnover in office may also generate the reverse incentive for sitting leaders. If civil
service reforms result in a more capable government, weak incumbents may have an incentive to avoid
– or even undermine – such reforms. In so-doing, they ensure that successors with opposing political
viewpoints will be constrained in their ability to enact policies deemed undesirable (Acemoglu, Ticchi and
Vindigni, 2011; Besley and Persson, 2010).
Other accounts stress different elite-centered explanations of the determinants of bureaucratic reform.
Increases in the government’s demand for the provision of public goods – particularly shifts brought on
by the threat of war – may drive politicians to abandon patronage in an effort to increase the capacity of
the bureaucratic apparatus to deliver on these demands (Besley and Persson, 2010; Brewer, 1989; Popa,
N.d.). Analogously, reform may be prevented or delayed if the technology for the delivery of public goods
can also be efficiently exploited for political mobilization (Reid and Kurth, 1988, 1989). Other arguments
stress the importance of the separation of powers and conflicts between the executive and legislature,
particularly for the adoption of merit reforms at the federal level in the US (Skowronek, 1982). Finally,
bureaucrats themselves may act as an important constituency, or may mobilize political pressure in favor
of merit recruitment (Carpenter, 2001; Johnson and Libecap, 1994).
We set aside these considerations to focus on the role of shifts in economic and demographic factors
that affect the populace on the adoption of merit reform. We share this focus with a literature on the
relationship between immigration and meritocracy that dates to Banfield and Wilson (1963) (see also Ruhil
and Camões, 2003; Wolfinger and Field, 1966). Our focus on the manner in which the composition of the
population affects the constraints under which patronage and merit systems operate is shared by accounts
that emphasize the role of labor supply in the functioning of the patronage system (Hollyer, 2011a,b;
Sorauf, 1960). While our argument that the economic and cultural ‘shock’ of immigration shifted patronage
equilibria is similar to Chubb’s (1982) focus on the manner in which the economic shock of an earthquake
played a similar role on patronage systems in Sicily.
This study additionally contributes to two literatures: one on the economic effects of immigration, the
other on the endogeneity of political institutions.
We build on a substantial literature in labor economics which argues that immigration induced skilldiversity increases per capita incomes (e.g., Alesina, Harnoss and Rapoport, 2013; Ottaviano and Peri,
2005) and widens wage dispersion (Ager and Brückner, 2010; Ottaviano and Peri, 2006). And we contribute to a literature on the effects of diversity on economic and institutional performance (Alesina, Harnoss
and Rapoport, 2013; Ager and Brückner, 2010; Ashraf and Galor, 2011; Easterly and Levine, 1997; Miguel,
2004). In particular, we examine a novel mechanism through which diversity may affect economic performance: Ethnic fractionalization (polarization) may increase (decrease) the willingness of governments to
adopt institutional reforms that promote the building of state capacity. The evolution of state capacity, in
turn, has implications for investment in public goods and long-term growth. Our mechanism thus offers one
potential explanation for the findings of Rodriguez-Pose and von Berlepsch (2012), who find that historical
level of immigration into the US positively affect current levels of economic development at the state level.
Our findings are also relevant for a far broader literature on the role of political institutions in economic
development – and on the endogeneity of these institutions. Our approach in some ways mirrors that of
Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2001, 2002), who contend that migration and settlement patterns of
early European settlers explains the adoption of inclusive political institutions. Our contention that shifts
in the distribution of cultural and human capital – and the economic consequences of these shifts – may
influence the form of political institutions relates to the work of Glaeser et al. (2004), who contend that
human capital stocks drive both the adoption of democratic political institutions and economic growth (also
see Lipset, 1959).
Our work, however, is far more micro in scale than these related pieces. We examine the relationship
between migration patterns, human and cultural capital and the adoption of a particular institution – namely
a professionalized civil service. Nor do we wish to make broad claims about the determinants of economic
growth. Our contention is merely that demographic factors shape institutional equilibria and that these
institutions may have persistent effects over time. We directly test these claims below.
Data and Methods
Data Description
Our outcome variable is a simple binary {0, 1} indicator that takes the value 1 if a given US municipality
adopted a civil service board in a given year. This indicator is coded based on two surveys conducted by
the Civil Service Assembly of the United States and Canada in 1937 and 1940, along with an addendum
to the 1940 survey published in 1943 (Civil Service Agencies in the United States: A 1937 Census, 1938;
Civil Service Agencies in the United States: A 1940 Census, 1940; Civil Service Agencies in the United
States: A 1943 Supplement, 1943). These surveys note whether a given municipality has a civil service
board in operation during the year in which the survey was conducted and – if a civil service board is in
place – the year in which that board began operation. The surveys provide further detail on the extent of
coverage of civil service boards – in particular whether or not civil service protections were unique to the
police and fire departments. For the purposes of this paper, we simply code whether or not a civil service
board is in place.
We code this variable as multiple record survival data. That is, each municipality enters the dataset with
the outcome variable coded as zero. Municipalities remain in our dataset until they fail – that is, until they
adopt a civil service board. In the year in which the civil service board is adopted, the outcome variable
equals 1. After that year, all observations of that municipality are treated as censored.
This coding precludes the possibility that municipalities abolish and then re-create civil service boards
multiple times in the dataset. Moreover, it is possible that our outcome measure misses instances of civil
service reform as a result of abolition. If a given municipality created and then abolished a civil service
board prior to 1937, it will appear in our data as if no such board was ever created. In practice, this concern
is unlikely to substantially influence our results. Instances in which municipalities abolished civil service
boards between 1937 and 1940 – the years during which the surveys used to code the outcome variable
were conducted – are exceedingly rare. Ting et al. (Forthcoming) similarly note that, in practice, once civil
service boards are created, they are never abolished.
Our data run from 1883-1943. The former date corresponds to the first adoption of the first municipal
civil service boards – and with the passage of the Pendleton Act and the birth of the reform movement.
All years prior to this date are left-censored. 1943 corresponds to the last year coded by the civil service
surveys we rely on to construct our outcome measure. All observations after this date are treated as
We code our explanatory variables based on the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS)
dataset. The IPUMS dataset contains over ten million individualized census records from samples of the
1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses. We aggregate these individuals records to the county level
and then match the cities and municipalities for which we have civil service data to their counties in the
dataset.6 The key independent variables that we code for in the analysis are the percentage of total immigrants in the county and the origins of these immigrants. Following previous literature, we code migrants as
individuals who were born outside of the United States or who had both parents born outside of the United
States. The regions that we code for in the analysis are Northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Iceland,
Lapland, Norway, Sweden, UK, Ireland); Western Europe (Belgium, France, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg,
Monaco, Netherlands, Switzerland); Southern Europe (Albania, Andorra, Gibraltar, Greece, Italy, Malta,
Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Vatican City); Central/Eastern Europe (Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia,
Unfortunately, it is not possible to match individual records directly to all the cities and municipalities in our dataset. For this
reason, we use the county-level data, which is the closest geographic and political subunit available for all observations in our
Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia); Russian Empire/Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia); Asia; and Central/South America.
We additionally use the IPUMS data to construct indexes of fractionalization and polarization. Our
definitions of these terms follow those of Ager and Brückner (2010). Fractionalization follows the typical
definition, wherein the level of fractionalization of a given county c in year t is given by:
F ractionalizec,t = 1 −
where g denotes group g and there are N such groups in the population. These groups are defined
as native-born whites, African Americans, migrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from the Benelux
countries, from Canada, from Latin America, from Scandinavia, from Eastern Europe, from France, from
Germany, from Greece, from Ireland, from Italy, from Poland, from Portugal, from Spain, from Switzerland,
and from the UK. Polarization of county c in year t is defined as:
P olarizec,t = 1 −
0.5 − πg,c,t 2
) πg,c,t
where all subscripts are defined as in the above. Both measures range from 0 to 1. The polarization index
is maximized when there are two equally sized groups in the population, and minimized either when society
is composed of a single group or is composed of many groups of vanishingly small size.
In future work, we intend to match the IPUMS data with information on source country levels of education and experiences of meritocracy.
We also use the IPUMS data to ascertain the proportion of the population in each county that is
African American. The literacy rate, female labor force participation, the proportion of males in the county,
and the average age. These additional controls help to account for other potential economic and social
confounders that could affect both immigration and the adoption of civil service reforms. Finally, while the
census is decennial, we have yearly data on civil service adoption. In order to take advantage of this, we
linearly interpolate each variable between censuses.
As progress on this project continues, we intend to add controls for variation in prevailing political
institutions and behavior. In particular, given the emphasis in the existing literature on the importance of
political contestation for reform, we intend to control for levels of political competition.
Econometric Model
As noted above, we code our data as a multiple record survival dataset. We assess the relationship
between the adoption of civil service boards and various measures of immigration using multiple record
Cox proportional hazards regressions. The Cox model takes the form hi (t) = h0 (t)eXi,t β where i denotes
municipality i (Box-Steffensmeier and Jones, 2004). hi (t) is hazard of civil service reform as a function
of time t which, in turn, is measured as the number of years from 1883. The hazard is defined as a the
risk that a given municipality experiences reform in year t conditional on not already having established a
civil service board.7 h0 (t) is the baseline hazard rate for all municipalities, while Xi,t β is the product of a
matrix of variables and Xi,t and a vector of associated coefficients β .
The Cox model is a semi-parametric specification in which the baseline hazard rate h0 (t) is estimated
non-parametrically. This function is determined simply by the fraction of municipalities that create civil
service boards at time t relative to the total number of municipalities at risk for doing so – i.e., those that
have not already created such bodies and are thus censored from the regression. Time-dependence is
thus factored out of the regression model and time is, in essence, reduced to a nuisance parameter (Beck,
Katz and Tucker, 1998).
The parametric portion of the Cox model assumes that covariates shift the baseline hazard up or down
according to the function eXi,t β . Covariate values thus shift the baseline hazard up or down, but do not
alter its shape – this is the proportional hazards assumption. We test this assumption through examination
of the Schoenfeld residuals from our regression models and correct for violations of proportional hazards
using the recommendations of Box-Steffensmeier and Jones (2004) and Keele (2010).
We first examine the relationship between overall migration levels and the adoption of civil service reforms.
Results from these regressions are reported in Table 1. Model 1 present the simple bivariate relationship between the hazard of civil service reform and the percentage of migrants in the population (ranging
between 0 and 1). Model 2 adds controls to this specification: the percentage of the population that is
African-American, the percentage employed in agriculture, the female workforce participation rate, average
age, literacy rates, the proportion of the population that is male, and county population levels (in hundreds
of thousands, logged). Model 3 also incorporates these controls and adds state level fixed effects. In all
tables, we report coefficients rather than hazard ratios. A positive coefficient indicates that an increase
in a given variable is associated with a higher hazard rate of reform, a negative coefficient indicates the
In keeping with Ruhil and Camões (2003), Model 1 finds a large and positive relationship between
migration and the hazard of civil service reform. Cities in which a higher proportion of the population was
foreign born are more likely to adopt civil service reforms. But, this relationship appears to be spurious.
The relationship between raw levels of immigration and reform diminishes in magnitude (and switches in
sign) when controls are introduced. Both with and without state fixed effects, estimates on the magnitude
of the relationship between migration and reform are small and imprecise. Our results thus accord most
closely with Wolfinger and Field (1966), who find little evidence of a relationship between raw immigration
Formally, let the probability of reform in a given year be distributed according to the pdf f (t), with the associated cdf F (t).
f (t)
The hazard rate is defined as 1−F (t) .
Table 1: Cox Survival Results: Civil Service Reform and Migration Levels
Model 1
Female Labor
Porp. Male
Model 2
Model 3
State Fixed
Results of a Cox regression of civil service reform on migration levels and controls.
We present coefficient estimates (and not hazard ratios). Standard errors are
reported in brackets.
numbers and reform.
The bivariate relationship between migration and reform largely reflects the correlation between immigration and prevailing literacy levels in a given city (on this relationship, see Robinson, 1950). Literacy is
highly predictive of reform – a one standard deviation shift in literacy from its mean level is associated with
a nearly 70 percent increase in the hazard of reform. This finding is consistent with the human capital
hypothesis, discussed in Hypothesis 2 above. Though, literacy rates may also be acting as a proxy for
economic development in this instance. (Unfortunately, controls economic indicators are not available at
the municipal level until the early-1910s.)
While raw immigration levels do not correlate strongly with civil service reform, more nuanced measures of immigration may do so. The mechanisms summarized in Hypotheses 1 and 2, above, indicate
that characteristics of the source countries from which migrants originate may have varying implications
for reform. In particular, Hypothesis 1 contends that the expectations and preferences of immigrants from
countries with long histories of meritocratic government administration may enhance the likelihood of reform, while immigrants from countries without such a history may retard reform. So long as neither group
is predominant in the total migration to the US during this period, thees effects may offset each other when
looking at the raw proportion of immigrants in the population. Analogously, Hypotheses 2 and 3 contend
that immigration affects reform only insofar as it shifts levels of ethnic fractionalization and polarization.
An influx of migrants into any urban population is likely to increase fractionalization, but may increase or
diminish polarization depending on the preexisting distribution of ethnic groups.
As a first-cut at testing Hypotheses 1 and 2, we test whether the relationship between immigration and
reform differs systematically depending on the countries from which immigrants originate in Table 2. We
divide source countries into six categories: Northern Europe (Scandinavia, the UK, and Ireland), Western
Europe (Benelux, Liechtenstein, Monaco, France, and Switzerland), Souther Europe (Albania, Andorra,
Gibraltar, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, and Vatican City), Central/Eastern Europe
(Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia), the Russian
Empire and Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia), Asia, and Central/South America. Because
prevailing education levels and experiences with mass education are correlated (Hollyer, 2011a), these
regional indicators provide preliminary tests of both Hypotheses 1 and 2. Both hypotheses would suggest
that Northern and Western European immigration should positively influence merit reform. However, further
work is required to differentiate between these two hypotheses.
We include higher order polynomials of literacy and female labor force participation rates, to adjust for
violations of the proportional hazards assumption (Keele, 2010).
The results in Table 2 are consistent with the claims of both Hypotheses 1 and 2. The coefficients on
the percentage of the population who migrated both from northern and western Europe are highly positive
and significant at, respectively, the 95 and 90 percent levels. By contrast, immigration from central and
eastern Europe is negatively associated with the adoption of reform. A one standard deviation increase
in the percentage of northern European immigrants in a given municipality is associated with a roughly 20
Table 2: Cox Survival Results: Civil Service Reform and Migration by Source Region
Variable Name Coefficient Standard Error
Northern Eur.
Western Eur.
Southern Eur.
Cent/East Eur.
Cent./South Am.
Porp. Male
Female Labor
Female Labor2
Female Labor3
Female Labor4
State Fixed
Results of a Cox regression of civil service reform on migration levels by source
country and controls. We present coefficient estimates (and not hazard ratios).
percent increase in the hazard of adopting civil service reform. Whereas, an analogous increase in the
percentage of western European migrants is associated with a roughly 9 percent increase in the hazard
rate. Given that prevailing education rates are highest in northern and western European countries and that
– with the notable exceptions of Prussia and Austria-Hungary – northern and western European countries
have the longest experience with meritocracy of states in our sample, these results support the contention
that highly educated immigrants from cultures that emphasize meritocracy are most likely to support reform
in the US.
By contrast, immigration from southern Europe, Asia and the Americas is not significantly associated
with the adoption of reform. In some instances – notably with regards to immigration from Asia – the point
estimates reported in Table 2 are large, but very imprecisely estimated. With regards to Asian and central
and south American immigration, this imprecision is likely due to the high concentration of immigrants
in a small number of states – and consequently the high correlation of these variables with the state
fixed effects employed in our model. Southern European immigration, on the other hand, is more evenly
dispersed across the US, implying that our null results are less likely to simply reflect multicolinearity.
Finally, we test the claims advanced in Hypotheses 3 and 4: immigration is associated with reform
by virtue of the extent to which it affects ethnic polarization and fractionalization. We examine these
claims using the definitions of fractionalization and polarization developed by Ager and Brückner (2010)
and described above. We regress the hazard of reform on these terms, a series of controls, and state fixed
effects. Results are reported in Table 3.
Recall that the proposed mechanisms in Hypotheses 3 and 4 operate through the economic and social implications of diversity. Fractionalization is posited to increase the diversity of skills available in the
population and – since skills may be complements in production – economic productivity will rise. Fractionalization is thus posited to increase average incomes in a given municipality. Though this increase is likely
to be larger for skilled than unskilled labor, given the imperfect substitutabilitiy of migrant and unskilled
native labor. Both the increase in average incomes and the increase in wage dispersion may positively
influence the chances of reform.
Polarization, by contrast, is anticipated to increase political conflict within a municipality. Social cleavages may give rise to incentives to underinvest in the state, given the danger that an effective bureaucracy
might be used by opponents of the sitting leadership to further ends they do not support (Besley and
Persson, 2010; Acemoglu, Ticchi and Vindigni, 2011).
Table 3: Cox Survival Results: Civil Service Reform, Ethnic Fractionalization and Ethnic Polarization
Variable Name Coefficient Standard Error
Female Labor
Female Labor2
Porp. Male
State Fixed
Results of a Cox regression of civil service reform on migration levels by source
country and controls. We present coefficient estimates (and not hazard ratios).
We find very little empirical support for either Hypothesis 3 or 4. We are unable to reject the null
hypothesis that fractionalization and polarization are uncorrelated with reform. Indeed, the point estimates
on the coefficients for each term have the opposite sign from the theoretical predictions.
Future Work
Our work on this project remains quite preliminary. Our evidence to date is supportive of cultural and human
capital-based explanations accounts of civil service reform. But, we plan to attempt to differentiate between
these claims. And we will reexamine all of the above hypotheses employing further controls. Broadly
speaking, we plan to take three steps to advance our analysis: (1) incorporate data on characteristics of
source countries, (2) expand the set of controls, and (3) assess the persistent effects of reform.
Our first step will be to attempt to better differentiate between cultural and human capital-centered
explanations for the relationship between migration and reform. The relationship between source regions
and reform is consistent with either explanation. Rather than defining immigration in terms of geographic
source, we would prefer to define immigration in terms of the characteristics of the source countries.
To do so, we will first rely on data on prevailing education levels in source countries. Ceteris paribus,
an immigrant from a country with widespread education is more likely to be educated. We have access to
information on education enrollment rates in Europe from Flora (1987), and from countries across the globe
from Lindert (2004) and Mitchell (1975). We are in the process of merging these data with the datasets
employed above to construct measures of the average level of education among migrants.
We define cultural experiences in terms of historical experiences with meritocracy. At present, we have
access to data on the adoption of meritocratic reforms from a subset of European countries from Hollyer
Our second step will be to expand the set of controls employed in our regressions. In particular,
given the results of Ting et al. (Forthcoming) and Folke, Hirano and Snyder (2011), which relate civil
service reform to levels of political competitiveness, we wish to add controls for political competition to our
specifications. At present, we have access to such data at the state level from David and Claggett (1998).
We continue to look for competitiveness data at a lower level of aggregation – either the city or county-level.
We also hope to add additional controls for economic factors, which may be available at the countylevel.
As for step 3, we hope to assess the relationship between historical migration patterns, reform and
current measures of state capacity and governance. At present, we have access to corruption indexes and
corruption conviction rates at the state-level in the US. Highly preliminary regressions show some signs of
a relationship between historical reforms and these indicators. However, we continue to look for measures
more directly related to capacity and measured at lower levels of aggregation.
We examine the relationship between migration patterns and civil service reform at the municipal level in
the US. In contrast to existing claims (Banfield and Wilson, 1963; Ruhil and Camões, 2003), we find little
evidence of a general relationship between aggregate immigration levels and reform. Our results instead
indicate that immigration from northern and western Europe is associated with an increased hazard of
reform (while, immigration from central and eastern Europe is associated with a reduced likelihood of
These findings are consistent with mechanisms that stress the role culture and human capital in shaping political institutions. Immigrants from regions with a tradition of meritocratic government and with high
prevailing levels of education may have encouraged reform, while those from regions with low education
levels and a history of patronage had the reverse effect.
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