Can you move to opportunity? Evidence from the Great Migration

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021422-WP-Can you move to opportunity-Derenoncourt

Ellora Derenoncourt, Princeton University


This paper shows that racial composition shocks during the Great Migration (1940-1970) reduced the gains from growing up in the northern United States for Black families and can explain 27% of the region’s racial upward mobility gap today. I identify northern Black share increases by interacting pre-1940 Black migrants’ location choices with predicted southern county out-migration. Locational changes, not negative selection of families, explain lower upward mobility, with persistent segregation and increased crime and policing as plausible mechanisms. The case of the Great Migration provides a more nuanced view of moving to opportunity when destination reactions are taken into account.


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