We investigate the impact of institutional quality on individuals using data on the
financial decisions of immigrants in the U.S. While all of the individuals whose decisions
we analyze face the same formal institutional framework in the U.S., they bring with
them their impressions from and experiences with institutions in their home countries.
We find that immigrants from countries with institutions that more effectively protect
private property and provide incentives for investment are more likely to participate in
U.S. financial markets. The effect of home country institutions is persistent and absorbed
early in life. In addition, the impact of institutions is amplified for immigrants who live
in places where informal institutional constraints are likely to be reinforced, those who
live in neighborhoods with many other immigrants from the same country of origin.
These findings are robust to alternative measures of institutional effectiveness and to
various methods of controlling for unobserved individual characteristics, including
specifications with country fixed-effects.