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psc brown bag iconThe Great Migration and African American Mortality: Evidence from the Deep South

Seth Sanders (Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Duke University)

02/06/2012, at noon in room 6050 ISR-Thompson.

The Great Migration—the early twentieth-century migration of millions of African Americans out of the South to locations with better social and economic opportunities—is understood to be a key element in black progress in the U.S. To date, though, there has been no evidence about the role of the Great Migration on a key dimension of lifetime wellbeing—longevity. Using data on precise place of birth, place of death, and age at death for African Americans born in the Deep South (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina) , we seek to identify the causal effect of migration on mortality of black men and women born in the early twentieth century. Our strategy relies on the fact that proximity of birthplace to early twentieth century railroad lines had a powerful effect on migration out of the South, thereby serving as a useful instrument for identifying causal effects. We find evidence of positive selection into migration, in terms of human capital and physical health. However, estimates show no positive causal impact of migration on longevity, and, to the contrary, indicate that migration may even have modestly reduced longevity.


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