Death in the Promised Land: the Great Migration and Black Infant Mortality, with Katherine Eriksson (UC-Davis)


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 migration by parents to Northern cities on infant mortality. The new dataset allows the paper’s key innovation, which is to control for selection into migration and detailed parental characteristics. 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 find no evidence of the “healthy migrant” effect. 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.

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