Thomas Shohfi, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – Are Immigrant Workers Impacted By Turmoil In Their Home Countries?

What makes people more or less honest at work?

Thomas Shohfi, assistant professor of accounting and finance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, discusses this question focusing on immigrants to the U.S.

Tom Shohfi is an assistant professor of accounting and finance at the Lally School of Management and Technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His research published in top accounting and finance focuses on fraud, investor behavior, disclosure, and capital markets. Originally from Long Island, New York, Mr. Shohfi is a graduate of the University Pittsburgh, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and New York University. He also holds the Chartered Financial Analyst and Financial Risk Manager designations.

Are Immigrant Workers Impacted By Turmoil In Their Home Countries?


Immigrants in the United States are essential to the foundation of American culture. However, many immigrants maintain substantial ties to their home countries. In this research into employee honesty, we wonder what happens to the behavior and ethics of immigrant workers in the United States when violent unrest occurs in their country of origin.

On the one hand, home country unrest could prompt immigrants to more frequently bend or break rules due to stress, anger, or fear, as well as a desire to earn more money to send to loved ones back home. Alternatively, home country turmoil could lead to immigrants feeling grateful to be in a safe place, and these pro-social emotions tend to predict more honest behavior.

To determine an answer, my co-author and I use data from a labor force made up of more than 90% immigrants: New York City taxi cab drivers. The study focuses on Egypt’s 2013 coup, where military crackdowns on protestors led to thousands of deaths and injuries.

We find that in the immediate aftermath of this violent coup, the incidence of Egyptian cab drivers in New York cheating customers drops by nearly fifty percent. While further research is needed, it seems that immigrants shift their worry away from their own daily difficulties to the turbulent struggles of the people in their country of birth. Additionally, their levels of empathy rise toward people in their new country.

These results suggest that the immigrants currently streaming out of conflict-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine are particularly inclined to behave honestly – critical knowledge that can help inform immigration policy experts, labor authorities and the general public across the United States.

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