Skip to main content

Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migration and Racial Wage Convergence in the North, 1940–1970

  • Leah Platt Boustan (a1)

Four million blacks left the South from 1940 to 1970, doubling the northern black workforce. I exploit variation in migrant flows within skill groups over time to estimate the elasticity of substitution by race. I then use this estimate to calculate counterfactual rates of wage growth. I find that black wages in the North would have been around 7 percent higher in 1970 if not for the migrant influx, while white wages would have remained unchanged. On net, migration was an avenue for black economic advancement, but the migration created both winners and losers.

Hide All
Bodnar, John, Simon, Roger, and Weber, Michael P.. Lives of Their Own: Blacks, Italians, and Poles in Pittsburgh, 19001960. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.
Borjas, George J.“The Labor Demand Curve Is Downward Sloping: Reexamining the Impact of Immigration on the Labor Market.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 118, no. 4 (2003): 13351335.
Bound, John, and Freeman, Richard B.. “What Went Wrong? The Erosion of Relative Earnings and Employment Among Black Men in the 1980s.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107, no. 1 (1992): 201201.
Boustan, Leah Platt. “Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migration and Racial Wage Convergence in the North, 19401970.” NBER Working Paper No. 13813, Cambridge, MA, February 2008.
Broussard, Albert S.Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 19001954. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.
Card, David. “Immigrant Inflows, Native Outflows, and the Local Market Impacts of Higher Immigration.” Journal of Labor Economics 19, no. 1 (2001): 2222.
Card, David, and Krueger, Alan. “School Quality and Black-White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107, no. 1 (1992): 151151.
Card, David, and Lemieux, Thomas. “Can Falling Supply Explain the Rising Return to College for Younger Men? A Cohort-Based Analysis.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 116, no. 2 (2001): 705705.
Chandra, Amitabh. “Is the Convergence in the Racial Wage Gap Illusory?” NBER Working Paper No. 9476, Cambridge, MA, February 2003.
Collins, William J.“When the Tide Turned: Immigration and the Delay of the Great Black Migration.” This Journal 57, no. 3 (1997): 607607.
Collins, William J.. “Race, Roosevelt, and Wartime Production: Fair Employment in World War II Labor Markets.” American Economic Review 91, no. 1 (2001): 272272.
Collins, William J.. “The Political Economy of State-Level Fair Employment Laws, 19401964.”
Explorations in Economic History 40, no. 1 (2003): 2424.
Donohue, John J., and Heckman, James. “Continuous versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks.” Journal of Economic Literature 29, no. 4 (1991): 16031603.
Du Bois, W. E. B.“The Hosts of Black Labor.” The Nation, 9 May 1923.
Fishback, Price. “Segregation in Job Hierarchies: West Virginia Coal Mining, 19061932.” This Journal 44, no. 3 (1984): 755755.
Foner, Philip S.Organized Labor and the Black Worker, 16191973. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974.
Foote, Christopher, Wright, Gavin, and Whatley, Warren. “Arbitraging a Discriminatory Labor Market: Black Workers at the Ford Motor Company, 19181947.” Journal of Labor Economics 21, no. 3 (2003): 493493.
Goldin, Claudia, and Margo, Robert A.. “The Great Compression: The U.S. Wage Structure at Mid-Century.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107, no. 1 (1992): 11.
Gottlieb, Peter. Making Their Own Way: Southern Blacks' Migration to Pittsburgh, 19161930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
Gregory, James N.The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
Grogger, Jeffrey. “Does School Quality Explain the Recent Black/White Wage Trend?” Journal of Labor Economics 14, no. 2 (1996): 231231.
Grossman, James R.Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Grove, Wayne A., and Heinicke, Craig. “Better Opportunities or Worse? The Demise of Cotton Harvest Labor, 19491964.” This Journal 63, no. 3 (2003): 736736.
Hamermesh, Daniel S.Labor Demand. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.
Hanushek, Eric A. “The Evidence on Class Size.” In Earning and Learning: How Schools Matter, edited by Mayer, Susan E. and Peterson, Paul, 131–68. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1999.
Heckman, James, and Payner, Brook. “Determining the Impact of Federal Antidiscrimination Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks: A Study of South Carolina.” American Economic Review 79, no. 1 (1989): 138138.
Higgs, Robert. “Firm-Specific Evidence on Racial Wage Differentials and Workforce Segregation.” American Economic Review 67, no. 2 (1977): 236236.
Krueger, Alan B., and Whitmore, Diane M.. “The Effect of Attending a Small Class in the Early Grades on College-Test Taking and Middle School Test Results: Evidence from Project STAR.” Economic Journal 111, no. 468 (2001): 11.
Lieberson, Stanley. A Piece of the Pie: Blacks and White Immigrants Since 1880. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
Long, Larry H., and Heltman, Lynne R.. “Migration and Income Differences Between Black and White Men in the North.” American Journal of Sociology 80, no. 6 (1975): 13911391.
Maloney, Thomas N.“Wage Compression and Wage Inequality Between Black and White Males in the United States, 19401960.” This Journal 54, no. 2 (1994): 358358.
Maloney, Thomas N., and Whatley, Warren C.. “Making the Effort: The Contours of Racial Discrimination in Detroit's Labor Markets, 19201940.” This Journal 55, no. 3 (1995): 465465.
Margo, Robert A.Race and Schooling in the South, 18801950: An Economic History. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Margo, Robert A.. “Segregated Schools and the Mobility Hypothesis: A Model of Local Government Discrimination.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 106, no. 1 (1991): 6161.
Margo, Robert A.. “Explaining Black-White Wage Convergence, 19401950.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 48, no. 3 (1995): 470470.
Masters, Stanley H.“Are Black Migrants from the South to the Northern Cities Worse Off Than Blacks Already There?” Journal of Human Resources 7, no. 4 (1972): 411411.
Myrdal, Gunnar. An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1962; orig. pub. 1944.
Neal, Derek A. “Why Has Black-White Skill Convergence Stopped?” In Handbook of Economics of Education, edited by Hanushek, Eric and Welch, Finis, 511–76. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006.
Neal, Derek A., and Johnson, William R.. “The Role of Pre-Market Factors in Black-White Wage Differences.” Journal of Political Economy 104, no. 5 (1996): 869869.
Ottaviano, Gianmarco, and Peri, Giovanni. “Rethinking the Effects of Immigration on Wages.” NBER Working Paper No. 12497, Cambridge, MA, August 2006.
Ruggles, Stephen, et al. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 4.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: Minnesota Population Center, 2008.
Smith, James P., and Welch, Finis. “Black Economic Progress After Myrdal.” Journal of Economic Literature 27, no. 2 (1989): 519–.
Sundstrom, William A.“The Color Line: Racial Norms and Discrimination in Urban Labor Markets, 19101950.” This Journal 54, no. 2 (1994): 382382.
Sundstrom, William A.. “The Geography of Wage Discrimination in the Pre-Civil Rights South.” This Journal 67, no. 2 (2007): 410410.
TrotterJoe William, Jr. Joe William, Jr.Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 19151945. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
Vigdor, Jacob. “The Pursuit of Opportunity: Explaining Selective Black Migration.” Journal of Urban Economics 51, no. 3 (2002): 391391.
Welch, Finis. “Effects of Cohort Size on Earnings: The Baby Boom Babies' Financial Bust.” Journal of Political Economy 87, no. 5 (1979): S65S97.
Wilson, William Julius. The Truly Disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Wright, Gavin. Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War. New York: Basic Books, 1986.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 144 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 446 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 16th August 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.