Relative Deprivation and Black Return Migration to the South

Chenoa A. Flippen, University of Pennsylvania

Studies of internal migration within the U.S. tend to focus on the absolute gains (usually earnings) resulting from migration. Research in developing countries and international migration, however, highlights that migration is also driven by relative considerations. We argue that relative deprivation is instrumental for explaining recent Southern Black migration. The analysis compares both the absolute and relative earnings and housing gains associated with migration, controlling for selection into migration, employment, and homeownership. We evaluate how the benefits from migration differ by region of origin and destination, and how local conditions such as unemployment and minority/foreign born concentrations affect migration decisions. Overall, we find that migration-related absolute and relative gains do not work in the same direction. Instead, they systematically vary across types of moves. North-South moves are notable in their absence of improvement in absolute earnings but substantial improvement in relative social position. The reverse is true for South-North moves.

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Presented in Session 42: Internal Migration