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Pittsburgh Perspectives  

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Monday, February 11, 2019  11:05 AM  (17)

Pittsburgh's highly educated immigrants

In recent decades, Western Pennsylvania has experienced extremely low rates of international immigrants moving into the region. As a result, the foreign-born population residing within the Pittsburgh metropolitan area has dropped from just over 25% a century ago, to under 4% today, a proportion that has consistently been among the lowest for large metropolitan areas across the nation. 

Today, the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) stands out not just for the low number of residents who were born outside of the United States, but the unique characteristics of the region's foreign-born population.  While only 4.4% of the adult population (age 25 and over) in the Pittsburgh MSA was considered foreign-born in 2017, just under 58% of the adult foreign-born population in the region held a bachelor's or graduate degree, far above the national average of 31%.    

The charts below summarize the educational attainment of the adult (age 25 and over) foreign-born population for the 40 largest MSAs in the United States. The foreign-born population is made up of current residents who were not U.S. citizens at birth and includes both immigrants, those who have or are seeking permanent residency, and those residing in the United States temporarily, such as those with student visas. 



The observation that Pittsburgh's immigrant flows are highly educated is not new.1 Nonetheless, just how highly educated Pittsburgh's recent immigrants are stands out compared to almost all other metropolitan regions. At 58%, Pittsburgh stands out even above San Jose, with the 2nd highest ratio, where 52% of the adult foreign-born population has a bachelor's or graduate degree. 

The high proportion of college graduates within Pittsburgh's foreign-born population likely results from the advanced educational requirements of the industries and occupations that have recently had greatest demand within the regional labor force.  The occupations most likely to attract workers from outside the Pittsburgh MSA include 1) Life, Physical and Social Science occupations 2) Computer and Mathematical occupations and 3) Architecture and Engineering occupations.2  At the same time, Pittsburgh is attracting extremely low numbers of international immigrants with less than a college degree. Less than 1.9% of the Pittsburgh region's population is comprised of foreign-born individuals with less than a college degree, the lowest percentage among large MSAs and far less than 12% for the nation as a whole. 


1 For example in 2004 Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution calculated that immigrants into the Pittsburgh MSA between 1995-2000 were the most highly educated in the nation, also with 58% holding a college degree at the time. See "Brain Gains, Brain Drains," in American Demographics, June 2004. p. 22. 

2 See Christopher Briem, "Migration and Employment in the Pittsburgh Region,"  in Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly, June 2012.

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