Author's School

Brown School

Author's Department

Social Work


English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Michael Sherraden

Committee Members

Shenyang Guo, Jin Huang, Yunju Nam, Ariela Schachter,


The economic integration of immigrants has long interested researchers and policymakers, with late but now growing attention on their asset- and wealth-building. Current research on immigrants’ asset building has largely focused on their individual-level characteristics, and not much on opportunities and constraints related to policy arrangements. This dissertation addresses the selection, adaptation, and impacts of immigration, with a goal to expand knowledge about asset-based social welfare policy in light of immigrants’ experiences. This investigation leverages two nationally representative datasets, the New Immigrant Survey and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997), to understand immigrants’ asset accumulation and intergenerational wealth mobility. Employing a series of advanced statistical models—logistic regression, propensity score analysis, and hierarchical modeling, this dissertation comprises three empirical papers investigating immigrants’ settlement, legal status, financial access, and wealth building, with analyses extending to the second generation. The dissertation consists of three papers. The first paper examines how initial legal status affects lawful permanent residents’ (LPRs) asset building by investigating three types of financial assets—bank account ownership, investment account ownership, and retirement account ownership. The second paper tests the impact of being banked at an earlier stage of immigration on immigrants’ subsequent asset holding, with self-selection bias addressed by using a nationally representative data set. The third paper examines wealth trajectories of children from immigrant and native-born families from their mid-20s to their mid-30s, with a focus on the role parental financial assets play in shaping these trajectories. Overall, the results show that how immigrants fare financially in the United States largely depends on what resources they can access in the United States. Institutional-level support in asset building and quality social networks may help them to achieve better financial outcomes. In addition, the findings reveal that children of immigrants were disadvantaged in wealth growth during their young to mid-adulthood compared to their peers from the native-born families. Together, these three papers turn new ground in extending asset-building research and policy to immigrant population, an important segment of the U.S. economy and society. The findings may inform inclusive asset-building policies, immigrant economic integration programs, and immigrant tailored financial services.