Population and Environment

, Volume 31, Issue 1–3, pp 20–42 | Cite as

Race, socioeconomic status, and return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

  • Elizabeth FussellEmail author
  • Narayan Sastry
  • Mark VanLandingham
Original Paper


Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on the 29th of August 2005 and displaced virtually the entire population of the city. Soon after, observers predicted the city would become whiter and wealthier as a result of selective return migration, although challenges related to sampling and data collection in a post-disaster environment have hampered evaluation of these hypotheses. In this article, we investigate return to the city by displaced residents over a period of approximately 14 months following the storm, describing overall return rates and examining differences in return rates by race and socioeconomic status. We use unique data from a representative sample of pre-Katrina New Orleans residents collected in the Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Survey. We find that black residents returned to the city at a much slower pace than white residents even after controlling for socioeconomic status and demographic characteristics. However, the racial disparity disappears after controlling for housing damage. We conclude that blacks tended to live in areas that experienced greater flooding and hence suffered more severe housing damage which, in turn, led to their delayed return to the city. The full-scale survey of displaced residents being fielded in 2009–2010 will show whether the repopulation of the city was selective over a longer period.


Race Socioeconomic status Migration New Orleans Hurricane Katrina Environment Natural hazards 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of many colleagues in designing, implementing, and analyzing the Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Survey. This research was funded in part by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institutes of Child Health and Development (HD57608).


  1. AAPOR (The American Association for Public Opinion Research). (2006). Standard definitions: Final dispositions of case codes and outcome rates for surveys (4th ed.). Lenexa, Kansas: AAPOR.Google Scholar
  2. Barnshaw, J., & Trainor, J. (2007). Race, class, and capital amidst the Hurricane Katrina diaspora. In D. L. Brunsma, D. Overfelt, & J. S. Picou (Eds.), The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littleufield.Google Scholar
  3. Berube, A., & Katz, B. (2005). Katrina’s window: Confronting concentrated poverty across America. Washington, DC: Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  4. Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., Davis, I., & Wisner, B. (1994). At risk: Natural hazards, people’s vulnerability and disasters. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Boyle, P., Cooke, T. J., Halfacree, K., & Smith, D. (2001). A cross-national comparison of the impact of family migration on women’s employment status. Demography, 38, 201–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brazile, D. L. (2006). New Orleans: Next steps on the road to recovery. In The state of black America (pp. 233–237). Washington, DC: National Urban League.Google Scholar
  7. Brunsma, D. L., Overfelt, D., & Picou, J. S. (2007). The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  8. City of New Orleans. (2005). Situation report for New Orleans, September 29, 2005. Retrieved November 13, 2008, from
  9. City of New Orleans. (2006). Mayor expands ‘Look and Stay’ area in Lower Ninth Ward, May 8, 2006. Retrieved November 13, 2008, from
  10. Cutter, S. L., & Emrich, C. R. (2006). Moral hazard, social catastrophe: The changing face of vulnerability along the Hurricane Coasts. Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 604, 102–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Drabek, T. E., & Boggs, K. S. (1968). Families in disaster: Reactions and relatives. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 30, 443–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Elliott, J. R., Bellone-Hite, A., & Devine, J. (2009). Unequal return: The uneven resettlements of New Orleans’s uptown neighborhoods. Organization & Environment, 22(4), 410–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elliott, J. R., & Pais, J. (2006). Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina: Social differences in human responses to disaster. Social Science Research, 35, 295–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Erikson, K. T. (1976). Everything in its path: Destruction of community in the Buffalo Creek Flood. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  15. Falk, W. W., Hunt, M. O., & Hunt, L. L. (2006). Hurricane Katrina and New Orleanians’ sense of place: Return and reconstitution or ‘Gone with the Wind’? DuBois Review, 3, 115–128.Google Scholar
  16. Farley, R., & Frey, W. H. (1994). Changes in the segregation of Whites from Blacks during the 1980s: Small steps toward a more integrated society. American Sociological Review, 59, 23–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fussell, E. (2007). Constructing New Orleans, constructing race: A population history of New Orleans. Journal of American History, 94, 846–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Greenwood, M. J. (1975). Research on internal migration in the United States: A survey. Journal of Economic Literature, 13, 397–433.Google Scholar
  19. Greenwood, M. J. (1985). Human migration: Theory, models, and empirical studies. Journal of Regional Science, 25, 521–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Greenwood, M. J. (1993). Internal migration in developed countries. In M. Rosenzweig & O. Stark (Eds.), Handbook of population and family economics (Vol. 1A, pp. 647–740). New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  21. Groen, J. A., & Polivka, A. E. (2008a). Going home after Hurricane Katrina: Determinants of return migration and changes in affected areas. Paper presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, New Orleans, LA.Google Scholar
  22. Groen, J. A., & Polivka, A. E. (2008b). The effect of Hurricane Katrina on the labor market outcomes of evacuees. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 98(2), 43–48.Google Scholar
  23. Hartman, C., & Squires, G. D. (2006). There is no such thing as a natural disaster: Race, class and Katrina. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Hunter, L. M. (2005). Migration and environmental hazards. Population and Environment, 26, 273–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Karoly, L., & Zissimopoulos, J. (2007). Employment and self-employment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Working paper, Labor and Population Program, RAND, Santa Monica, CA.Google Scholar
  26. Klinenberg, E. (2002). Heat wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  27. Lavelle, K., & Feagin, J. (2006). Hurricane Katrina: The race and class debate. The Monthly Review, 58, 52–66.Google Scholar
  28. Lee, E. S. (1966). A theory of migration. Demography, 3, 47–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Logan, J. R. (2002). Separate and unequal: The neighborhood gap for Blacks and Hispanics in Metropolitan America. Working paper. Retrieved January 14, 2009, from
  30. Logan, J. R. (2006). The impact of Katrina: Race and class in storm-damaged neighborhoods. Working paper, Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences, Brown University.Google Scholar
  31. Logan, J. R., Stults, B. J., & Farley, R. (2004). Segregation of minorities in the metropolis: Two decades of change. Demography, 41, 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Long, L. (1992). Changing residence: Comparative perspectives on its relationship to age, sex, and marital status. Population Studies, 46, 141–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Massey, D. S. (1990). Social structure, household strategies, and the cumulative causation of migration. Population Index, 56, 3–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Massey, D. S. (1999). Why does immigration occur? A theoretical synthesis. In C. Hirschman, P. Kasinitz, & J. DeWind (Eds.), Handbook of international migration: The American experience. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press.Google Scholar
  35. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1987). Trends in the residential segregation of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians: 1970–1980. American Sociological Review, 52, 802–825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McCarthy, K., Peterson, D. J., Sastry, N., & Pollard, M. (2006). The repopulation of New Orleans after Katrina. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Google Scholar
  37. Morrow-Jones, H. A., & Morrow-Jones, C. R. (1991). Mobility due to natural disaster: Theoretical considerations and preliminary analyses. Disasters, 15, 126–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mumford Center. (2001). Ethnic diversity grows, neighborhood integration lags behind. Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research, University at Albany.Google Scholar
  39. National Academy of Sciences. (2007). Tools and methods for estimating populations at risk from natural disasters and complex humanitarian crises. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  40. Pais, J. F., & Elliott, J. R. (2008). Places as recovery machines: Vulnerability and neighborhood change after major hurricanes. Social Forces, 86, 1415–1453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Paxson, C., & Rouse, C. E. (2008). Returning to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 98, 38–42.Google Scholar
  42. Rao, J. N. K., & Scott, A. J. (1984). On Chi-squared tests for multiway contingency tables with cell proportions estimated from survey data. Annals of Statistics, 12, 46–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Raphael, S., & Riker, D. A. (1999). Geographic mobility, race, and wage differentials. Journal of Urban Economics, 45, 17–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sastry, N. (2009). Tracing the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the population of New Orleans: The Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Study. Sociological Methods and Research, 38, 171–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sell, R. R. (1983). Transferred jobs: A neglected aspect of migration and occupational change. Work and Occupations, 10, 179–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sen, A. K. (1981). Poverty and famines: An essay on entitlement and deprivation. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Sharkey, P. (2007). Survival and death in New Orleans: An empirical look at the human impact of Katrina. Journal of Black Studies, 37, 482–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sjaastad, L. A. (1962). The costs and returns of human migration. Journal of Political Economy, 70, 80–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Spain, D. (1979). Race relations and residential segregation in New Orleans: Two centuries of paradox. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 441, 82–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stark, O. (1991). The migration of labor. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  51. Stark, O., & Bloom, D. E. (1985). The new economics of labor migration. American Economic Review, 75, 173–178.Google Scholar
  52. Stark, O., & Taylor, J. E. (1991). Migration incentives, migration types: The role of relative deprivation. The Economic Journal, 101, 1163–1178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Taylor, J. E. (1986). Differential migration, networks, information and risk. In O. Stark (Ed.), Research in human capital and development, Vol. 4, migration, human capital, and development (pp. 147–171). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  54. Taylor, M. (2006). Tied migration and subsequent employment: Evidence from couples in Britain. Working Paper 2006-05, ISER, University of Essex, Colchester.Google Scholar
  55. Tierney, K. (2006). Foreshadowing Katrina: Recent sociological contributions to vulnerability science. Contemporary Sociology, 35, 207–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Decennial Census, from
  57. U.S. Census Bureau. (2005). American Factfinder. Retrieved September 7, 2005, from
  58. U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). New Orleans was nation’s fastest-growing city in 2008: Population getting closer to pre-Katrina levels. Press Release, July 1, 2009, from
  59. VanLandingham, M. (2007). Commentary on New Orleans population estimates for 2006. Working paper 2007-02, International Health and Development, Tulane University.Google Scholar
  60. Vigdor, J. L. (2007). The Katrina effect: Was there a bright side to the evacuation of greater New Orleans? The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, 7, 64. Available at:
  61. Vu, L., VanLandingham, M., Do, M., & Bankston, C. (2009). Evacuation and return of Vietnamese New Orleanians affected by Hurricane Katrina. Organization & Environment, 22(4), 422–436.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Fussell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Narayan Sastry
    • 2
  • Mark VanLandingham
    • 3
  1. 1.Sociology DepartmentWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Population Studies CenterUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of International Health and DevelopmentTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

Personalised recommendations