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Moving to Higher Ground: Migration Response to Natural Disasters in the Early Twentieth Century

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  • Leah Platt Boustan
  • Matthew E. Kahn
  • Paul W. Rhode

Abstract

Areas differ in their propensity to experience natural disasters. Exposure to disaster risks can be reduced either through migration (i.e., self-protection) or through public infrastructure investment (e.g., building seawalls). Using migration data from the 1920s and 1930s, this paper studies how the population responded to disaster shocks in an era of minimal public investment. We find that, on net, young men move away from areas hit by tornados but are attracted to areas experiencing floods. Early efforts to protect against future flooding, especially during the New Deal era of the late 1930s, may have counteracted an individual migration response.

Suggested Citation

  • Leah Platt Boustan & Matthew E. Kahn & Paul W. Rhode, 2012. "Moving to Higher Ground: Migration Response to Natural Disasters in the Early Twentieth Century," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(3), pages 238-244, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:102:y:2012:i:3:p:238-44
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Matthew E. Kahn, 2005. "The Death Toll from Natural Disasters: The Role of Income, Geography, and Institutions," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 271-284, May.
    2. Timothy J. Bartik, 1991. "Who Benefits from State and Local Economic Development Policies?," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number wbsle, September.
    3. Carolyn Kousky & Erzo Luttmer & Richard Zeckhauser, 2006. "Private investment and government protection," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 73-100, September.
    4. Libecap, Gary D. & Steckel, Richard H. (ed.), 2011. "The Economics of Climate Change," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226479880, December.
    5. Gary D. Libecap & Richard H. Steckel, 2011. "The Economics of Climate Change: Adaptations Past and Present," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number libe10-1, January-J.
    6. Simmons, Kevin M., 2011. "Economic and Societal Impacts of Tornadoes," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9781878220998, September.
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