The Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North entailed a significant change in the health environment, particularly of infants, during a time when access to medical care and public health infrastructure became increasingly important. We create a new dataset that links individual infant death certificates to parental characteristics to assess the impact of parents' migration to Northern cities on infant mortality. The new dataset allows a number of key innovations. First, we construct infant mortality rates specific to migrants and also for a period (1915-1920) prior to the registration of births. Second, the microdata allow us to control for the selection into migration and assess a number of potential mechanisms for the migrant health effect. Conditional on parents' pre-migration observable characteristics and county-of-origin fixed effects, we find that black infants were more likely to die in the North relative to their southern-born counterparts. We do not find any evidence of migrant selection. Given that infant health has a long-lasting impact on adult outcomes, the results shed light on whether and how the Great Migration contributed to African Americans’ secular gains in health and income during the 20th century.
Professor of Economics, UC Davis
Katherine Eriksson is an economic historian whose research has focused on US immigration in the early 1900's. She is a specialist in applied microeconomics whose interests encompass economic history, labor economics, and development economics. She is also new affiliate of the Temporary Migration Cluster.