The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to urban areas of the North during the 20th century gave major impetus to social reforms, racial integration, voting rights, and civil rights. But a new study by researchers at Duke University, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and Carnegie Mellon University finds that not everything about the Great Migration was good.
In fact, the study found that Blacks who moved North ended up having higher mortality rates. The study found that if an African-American man lived to age 65 the chances that he would make it to age 70 if he remained in the South were 82.5 percent; if he migrated to the North the chance of surviving to age 70 dropped to 75 percent — about a 40 percent increase in mortality.
For an African-American woman who lived to age 65, the chances that she would make it to age 70 if she remained in the South were 90 percent; if she migrated to the North, the chance of surviving to age 70 dropped to 85 percent — about a 50 percent increase in mortality.
Seth G. Sanders, a professor of economics at Duke University and a co-author of the study stated that there is “something about living in the city, it’s very stressful and as a result, people pick up bad habits they think will ease that stress, like smoking and drinking.” Stress and these bad habits can lead to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and liver disease, impacting mortality rates.
The authors note that their historical study has implications for similar migrations that are taking place in the developing world. As millions of people in Africa and Asia leave rural locations for urban areas, they may be subjected to the same stresses that Black Americans faced in the urban North.
“The Impact of the Great Migration on Mortality of African Americans: Evidence from the Deep South,” appears in the February issue of American Economic Review. It may be accessed here.