Skip to main content

Second-Generation Outcomes of the Great Migration

Abstract

The mass migration of African Americans out of the South during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century represents one of the most significant internal migration flows in U.S. history. Those undertaking the Great Migration left the South in search of a better life, and their move transformed the cultural, social, and political dynamics of African American life specifically and U.S. society more generally. Recent research offers conflicting evidence regarding the migrants’ success in translating their geographic mobility into economic mobility. Due in part to the lack of a large body of longitudinal data, almost all studies of the Great Migration have focused on the migrants themselves, usually over short periods of their working lives. Using longitudinally linked census data, we take a broader view, investigating the long-term economic and social effects of the Great Migration on the migrants’ children. Our results reveal modest but statistically significant advantages in education, income, and poverty status for the African American children of the Great Migration relative to the children of southerners who remained in the South. In contrast, second-generation white migrants experienced few benefits from migrating relative to southern or northern stayers.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    We occasionally refer to the “South” and “non-South,” using the latter to refer to all states outside of the census-defined South. In some cases, we distinguish between the “North” and “West” as distinct nonsouthern locations. When we use the generic terms of “North” and “northern,” without additional distinction, we are referring to all areas outside the South.

  2. 2.

    We borrow this term from Portes and Rumbaut (1990).

  3. 3.

    The study by Restifo et al. (2013) is based on public use microdata samples for 1910, 1920, and 1930 for New York City only. They defined the second-generation as those born to one southern-born parent, and the third-generation as those born to two northern-born parents. Their data imposed a number of important limitations, including (1) a lack of early life characteristics for second-generation migrants and (2) an inability to clearly delineate when individuals migrated. Further, females and southern-born whites are not included in their study.

  4. 4.

    The Minnesota Population Center and Ancestry.com (2013) provided the complete-count 1940 census.

  5. 5.

    We did not extend our analysis to the 2001–2015 American Community Surveys (ACS) because we believed this would exaggerate selection into the matched sample that occurs by requiring survival between 1940 and 2000. Longevity is positively associated with higher education outcomes (Lleras-Muney 2005) and income (Chetty et al. 2016). Given the age of our sample, the relationship among education, income, and mortality may lead to our estimating upper bounds for the benefits experienced by second-generation migrants.

  6. 6.

    See Alexander et al. (2014) and Wagner and Layne (2014) for more information about PVS and how PIKs were assigned to the 1940 and 2000 census files.

  7. 7.

    Because the 2000 census long form includes roughly one in six U.S. households, the maximum number of children with PIKs from 1940 who could be linked to their 2000 census records is 4,526,938 (i.e., 0.167 × 27,107,415 = 4,526,938). In principle, we successfully linked roughly 70 % (i.e., 3,169,843 / 4,526,938 = .70) of the children from the 1940 census who had PIKs assigned. Because we do not account for migration or death in these estimates, a match rate of 70 % is a worst-case scenario, or lower bound, on how many individuals we should link from 1940 to 2000.

  8. 8.

    We follow a reweighting procedure similar to that proposed by DiNardo et al. (1996) to reweight the matched sample to exhibit the distribution of characteristics of the full population. We construct the weights using probit regressions of matched status on characteristics in 1940, including migrant group, age, parental education, parental occupational standing, and whether the respondent lives with one or both parents (results available by request). We also include polynomials in age, parent education, and parent occupation score up to the fourth degree. Due to computational constraints, we took a 10 % random sample of the 31 million total black and white children in the United States to reweight against. Our probit regressions estimate the propensity of being matched or unmatched (p). We then reweight the matched cases by (p / (1 – p) × (1 – q) / q), where q is the share of matched cases. Only three point estimates are statistically different from their original values as a result of the reweighting exercise. These include the coefficients on white northern stayers for the probability of graduating high school (without covariates), the coefficients on whites who migrated before birth and white northern stayers in the income regressions (without covariates), and the coefficients on migrated before birth in the probability of being in poverty regressions (without covariates) for whites.

  9. 9.

    Approximately 0.5 % of the total cases have nonmatching race responses in 1940 and 2000. Because this is not a sufficient number of cases to support a “both” racial category in the analysis, we exclude the cases.

  10. 10.

    We also examined whether migrants who moved to the West differed from those who moved to the North (Midwest and Northeast). However, we found few significant differences between these groups in our multivariate models, and so those comparisons are not examined here.

  11. 11.

    We estimated our models while both including and excluding southerners who migrated out of the South between 1940 and 2000 from the group of southern stayers. However, those results yielded very similar results. In fact, our decision to include in our primary analyses individuals who may have migrated out of the South between 1940 and 2000 slightly attenuates the advantages enjoyed by black migrants.

  12. 12.

    Income includes wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, tips, self-employment income, public assistance, Social Security income, and Supplemental Security Income.

  13. 13.

    We control for the top five destination cities for both black and white migrant groups to control for network effects caused by previous migration streams as well as location-specific differences in income and employment opportunities. The top five cities for blacks are Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York City. The top five cities for whites are Chicago, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Cleveland.

  14. 14.

    We measure occupational status using occupation scores constructed using median income by occupation from the 1950 census (Sobek 1995).

  15. 15.

    We also examine the relationship between migration status and educational outcomes using OLS regression, with years of educational attainment as the dependent variable. We find that the returns to migration are somewhat narrower for black second-generation migrants using this specification. However, the results are substantively very similar to the models examining blacks’ and whites’ probabilities of graduating from high school, with second-generation black migrants exhibiting modestly higher years of educational attainment relative to southern stayers, and white second generation migrants exhibiting statistically nonsignificant differences in educational attainment relative to white southern stayers after we control for the 1940 characteristics. We present these results in Table S5 and Fig. S1 in Online Resource 1.

References

  1. Akresh, I. R. (2006). Occupational mobility among legal immigrants to the United States. International Migration Review, 40, 854–884.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alba, R. (2005). Bright vs. blurred boundaries: Second-generation assimilation and exclusion in France, Germany, and the United States. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28, 20–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Alexander, J. T. (1998). The Great Migration in comparative perspective: Interpreting the urban origins of southern black migrants to Depression-era Pittsburgh. Social Science History, 22, 349–376.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Alexander, J. T., Gardner, T., Massey, C., & O’Hara, A. (2014, May). Creating a longitudinal infrastructure at the Census Bureau. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, San Diego, CA. Retrieved from http://paa2015.princeton.edu/uploads/152688

  5. Anderson, J. D. (1989). The education of blacks in the South, 1865–1930. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Andrews, K. T. (2004). Freedom is a constant struggle: The Mississippi civil rights movement and its legacy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Beck, E. M. (2015). Judge Lynch denied: Combating the mob in the American South, 1877–1950. Southern Cultures, 21, 117–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Berry, C. (2000). Southern migrants, northern exiles. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Black, D. A., Sanders, S. G., Taylor, E. J., & Taylor, L. J. (2015). The impact of the Great Migration on mortality of African Americans: Evidence from the Deep South. American Economic Review, 105, 477–503.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Blackmon, D. A. (2008). Slavery by another name: The re-enslavement of black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Borjas, G. J. (1987). Self-selection and the earning of immigrants. American Economic Review, 27, 21–37.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Boustan, L. P. (2009). Competition in the promised land: Black migration and racial wage convergence in the North, 1940–1970. Journal of Economic History, 69, 755–782.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Boustan, L. P. (2016). Competition in the promised land: Black migrants in northern cities and labor markets. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Boyd, M. (2009). Social origins and the educational and occupational achievements of the 1.5 and second generations. Canadian Review of Sociology, 46, 339–369.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Boyd, M., & Grieco, E. M. (1998). Triumphant transitions: Socioeconomic achievement of the second generation in Canada. International Migration Review, 32, 853–876.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Boyd, R. L. (2012). The “black metropolis” revisited: A comparative analysis of northern and southern cities in the United States in the early 20th century. Urban Studies, 49, 845–860.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Boyd, R. L. (2013). Black women in the “black metropolis” of the early twentieth century: The case of professional occupations. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 40, 103–117.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Chetty, R., Stepner, M., Abraham, S., Lin, S., Scuderi, B., Turner, N., . . . Cutler, D. (2016). The association between income and life expectancy in the United States, 2001–2014. JAMA, 315, 1750–1766.

  19. Chiswick, B. R., & DebBurman, N. (2004). Educational attainment: Analysis by immigrant generation. Economics of Education Review, 23, 361–379.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Collins, W. J. (2000). African-American economic mobility in the 1940s: A portrait from the Palmer Survey. Journal of Economic History, 60, 756–781.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Collins, W. J., & Wanamaker, M. H. (2014). Selection and economic gains in the Great Migration of African Americans: New evidence from linked census data. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 6, 220–252.

    Google Scholar 

  22. DiNardo, J., Fortin, N. M., & Lemieux, T. (1996). Labor market institutions and the distribution of wages, 1973–1992: A semiparametric approach. Econometrica, 64, 1001–1044.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Dodoo, N. A. (1997). Assimilation differences among Africans in America. Social Forces, 76, 527–549.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Drake, S. C., & Cayton, H. R. (1945). Black metropolis: A study of Negro life in a northern city. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace, and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Dustman, C., Frattini, T., & Lanzara, G. (2012). Educational achievement of second-generation immigrants: An international comparison. Economic Policy, 69, 143–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Eichenlaub, S. C., Tolnay, S. E., & Alexander, J. T. (2010). Moving out but not up: Economic outcomes in the Great Migration. American Sociological Review, 75, 101–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Epstein, A. (1919). The Negro migrant in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Falk, W. W., Hunt, L. L., & Hunt, M. O. (2004). Return migrations of African-Americans to the South: Reclaiming a land of promise, going home, or both? Rural Sociology, 69, 490–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Farley, R., & Alba, R. (2002). The new second-generation in the United States. International Migration Review, 36, 669–701.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Faulkner, A. O., Heisel, M., Holbrook, W., & Geismar, S. (1982). When I was comin’ up. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Feliciano, C. (2005). Does selective migration matter? Explaining ethnic disparities in educational attainment among immigrants’ children. International Migration Review, 39, 841–871.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Frey, W. H. (2004). The new great migration: Black Americans’ return to the South, 1965–2000 (Report). Washington, DC: Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, The Brookings Institution.

  33. Greenwood, M. J. (2015). Perspectives on migration theory—Economics. In M. J. White (Ed.), Handbook of migration and population distribution (pp. 31–40). Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer.

  34. Gregory, J. N. (1989). American exodus: The Dust Bowl migration and Okie culture in California. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Gregory, J. N. (2005). The southern diaspora: How the Great Migrations of black and white southerners transformed America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Ignatiev, N. (1995). How the Irish became white. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Kalmijn, M. (1996). The socioeconomic assimilation of Caribbean American blacks. Social Forces, 74, 911–930.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kousser, J. M. (1974). The shaping of southern politics: Suffrage restriction and the establishment of the one-party south. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Kusow, A. M., Kimuna, S. R., & Corra, M. (2016). Socioeconomic diversity among African immigrants in the United States: An intra-African immigrant comparison. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 17, 115–130.

  40. Lee, E. S. (1966). A theory of migration. Demography, 3, 47–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Lemann, N. (1991). The promised land: The Great Black Migration and how it changed America. New York, NY: Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Lieberson, S. (1978). A reconsideration of the income differences found between migrants and northern-born blacks. American Journal of Sociology, 83, 940–966.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Lieberson, S., & Wilkinson, C. A. (1976). A comparison between northern and southern blacks residing in the North. Demography, 13, 199–224.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Lleras-Muney, A. (2005). The relationship between education and adult mortality in the United States. Review of Economic Studies, 72, 189–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Long, L. H., & Heltman, L. R. (1975). Migration and income differences between black and white men in the North. American Journal of Sociology, 80, 1391–1409.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Mahoney, T. N. (2007). African American migration to the North: New evidence for the 1910s. Economic Inquiry, 40, 1–11.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Mandle, J. R. (1978). The roots of black poverty: The southern plantation economy after the Civil War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Mandle, J. R. (1992). Not slave, not free: The African American economic experience since the Civil War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Margo, R. A. (1988). Schooling and the Great Migration (NBER Working Paper No. 2697). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

  50. Margo, R. A. (1990). Race and schooling in the South, 1850–1950: An economic history. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Marks, C. (1989). Farewell—We’re good and gone: The Great Black Migration. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Massey, D. S., Arango, J., Hugo, G., Kouaouci, A., Pellegrino, A., & Taylor, J. E. (1993). Theories of international migration: A review and appraisal. Population and Development Review, 19, 431–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Masters, S. H. (1972). Are black migrants from the South to the northern cities worse off than blacks already there? Journal of Human Resources, 7, 411–423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. McAdam, D. (1982). Political process and the development of black insurgency 1930–1970. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Min, P. G., & Jang, S. H. (2015). The concentration of Asian Americans in STEM and health-care occupations: An intergenerational comparison. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38, 841–859.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Minnesota Population Center, & Ancestry.com. (2013). IPUMS Restricted Complete Count Data: Version 1.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

  58. Morris, A. D. (1984). The origins of the civil rights movement: Black communities organizing for change. New York, NY: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Muller, C. (2012). Northward migration and the rise of racial disparity in American incarceration, 1880–1950. American Journal of Sociology, 118, 281–326.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Park, J., & Myers, D. (2010). Intergenerational mobility in the post-1965 immigration era: Estimates by an immigrant generation cohort method. Demography, 47, 369–392.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Portes, A., Fernandez-Kelly, P., & Haller, W. (2009). The adaptation of the immigrant second generation in America: A theoretical overview and recent evidence. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35, 1077–1104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (1990). Immigrant America: A portrait. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Ransom, R. L., & Sutch, R. (1977). One kind of freedom: The economic consequences of emancipation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Ravenstein, E. G. (1885). The laws of migration. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 48, 167–235.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Reitz, J. G., Zhang, H., & Hawkins, N. (2011). Comparisons of the success of racial minority immigrant offspring in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Social Science Research, 40, 1051–1066.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Restifo, S. J., Roscigno, V. J., & Qian, Z. (2013). Segmented assimilation, split labor markets, and racial/ethnic inequality: The case of early-twentieth-century New York. American Sociological Review, 78, 897–924.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Ritchey, P. N. (1976). Explanations of migration. Annual Review of Sociology, 2, 363–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Roediger, D. R. (1991). The wages of whiteness: Race and the making of the American work class. New York, NY: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Ruef, M. (2014). Between slavery and capitalism: The legacy of emancipation in the American South. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  70. Sakamoto, A., Woo, H., & Kim, C. (2010). Does an immigrant background ameliorate racial disadvantage? The socioeconomic attainments of second-generation African Americans. Sociological Forum, 25, 123–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Scott, E. J. (1919). Letters of negro migrants. Journal of Negro History, 4, 290–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Sobek, M. (1995). The comparability of occupations and the generation of income scores. Historical Methods, 25, 47–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Spear, A. H. (1967). Black Chicago: The making of a negro ghetto, 1890–1920. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Thomas, K. J. (2011). Familial influences on poverty among young children in black immigrant, U.S.-born black, and nonblack immigrant families. Demography, 48, 437–460.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Thomas, K. J. (2012). Race and school enrollment among the children of African immigrants in the United States. International Migration Review, 46, 37–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Tolnay, S. E. (1997). The Great Migration and changes in the northern black family, 1940 to 1990. Social Forces, 75, 1213–1238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Tolnay, S. E. (1998). Migration experience and family patterns in the “promised land.” Journal of Family History, 23, 68–89.

  78. Tolnay, S. E. (1999). The bottom rung: African American family life on southern farms. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Tolnay, S. E. (2001). The Great Migration gets underway: A comparison of black southern migrants and nonmigrants in the North, 1920. Social Science Quarterly, 82, 235–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Tolnay, S. E. (2003). The African American “Great Migration” and beyond. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 209–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Tolnay, S. E., & Bailey, A. K. (2006). Schooling for newcomers: Variation in educational persistence in the northern United States in 1920. Sociology of Education, 79, 253–279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Tolnay, S. E., & Beck, E. M. (1992). Racial violence and black migration in the American South, 1910 to 1930. American Sociological Review, 57, 103–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Tolnay, S. E., & Beck, E. M. (1995). Festival of violence: An analysis of southern lynchings, 1882–1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Tolnay, S. E., & Crowder, K. D. (1999). Regional origin and family structure in northern cities: The role of context. American Sociological Review, 64, 97–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Trejo, S. J. (2003). Intergenerational progress of Mexican-origin workers in the U.S. labor market. Journal of Human Resources, 38, 467–489.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  86. Trotter, J. W., Jr. (1985). Black Milwaukee: The making of an industrial proletariat, 1915–1945. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

    Google Scholar 

  87. U.S. Bureau of Education. (1916). Negro education: A study of the private and higher schools for colored people in the United States, Vol. II (Bureau of Education Bulletin No. 39). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

  88. Wagner, D., & Layne, M. (2014). The person identification validation system (PVS): Applying the Center for Administrative Records and Research and Applications’ (CARRA) record linkage software (CARRA Report Series #2014-01). Washington, DC: Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications, U.S. Census Bureau.

  89. White, K. J. C. (2005). Women in the Great Migration: Economic activity of black and white southern-born female migrants in 1920, 1940, and 1970. Social Science History, 29, 413–455.

    Google Scholar 

  90. White, K. J. C., Crowder, K., Tolnay, S. E., & Adelman, R. M. (2005). Race, gender, and marriage: Destination selection during the Great Migration. Demography, 42, 215–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  91. Wilkerson, I. (2010). The warmth of other suns: The epic story of the Great Migration. New York, NY: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  92. Wilson, T. C. (2001). Explaining black southern migrants’ advantage in family stability: The role of selective migration. Social Forces, 80, 555–571.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  93. Wilson, W. J. (1978). The declining significance of race. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  94. Woodward, C. V. (1951). Origins of the New South, 1877–1913. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Partial support for this research came from awards from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology (CSDE) at the University of Washington in support of its training program (T32 HD007543) and infrastructure (R24 HD042828), as well as from the CSDE Shanahan Endowment Fellowship. We would like to thank the participants in the 2016 American Sociological Association, particularly Jenna Nobles, for their valuable comments and suggestions. We are also grateful for the feedback from the five anonymous reviewers during the Demography peer review process. This research was conducted as a part of the Census Longitudinal Infrastructure Project (CLIP) while J. Trent Alexander was an employee of the U.S. Census Bureau. Any opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christine Leibbrand.

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(DOCX 17.6 kb)

ESM 2

(DOCX 14.7 kb)

ESM 3

(DOCX 15.7 kb)

ESM 4

(DOCX 16.0 kb)

ESM 5

(DOCX 14.7 kb)

ESM 6

(DOCX 17.3 kb)

ESM 7

(DOCX 16.9 kb)

ESM 8

(DOCX 42.6 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Alexander, J.T., Leibbrand, C., Massey, C. et al. Second-Generation Outcomes of the Great Migration. Demography 54, 2249–2271 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-017-0625-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Great Migration
  • Second-generation migrants
  • Migrant outcomes
  • Socioeconomic outcomes