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Migration as Disaster Relief: Lessons from the Great Irish Famine

  • O'Gráda, Cormac
  • O'Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj

Mass emigration was one key feature of the Great Irish Famine which distinguishes it from today’s famines. By bringing famine victims to overseas food supplies, it undoubtedly saved many lives. Poverty traps prevented those most in need from availing of this form of relief, however. Cross-county data show that the ratio of emigration to deaths was higher in richer than in poorer counties. Another key feature of the Famine emigration was that it was irreversible. The Famine thus had a permanent impact on Ireland’s population and economy, whereas typically famines only reduce population in a transitory fashion. Famine emigration spurred post-Famine emigration by eliminating poverty traps; the result was a sustained decline in the Irish population, and a convergence of living standards both within Ireland and between Ireland and the rest of the world.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 1462.

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Date of creation: Aug 1996
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:1462
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  1. Joel Mokyr & Cormac Ó Gráda, 1984. "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700-1850," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 37(4), pages 473-488, November.
  2. Katz, Eliakim & Stark, Oded, 1989. "International labour migration under alternative informational regimes: A diagrammatic analysis," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 127-142, January.
  3. Hatton, Timothy J. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1993. "After the Famine: Emigration from Ireland, 1850–1913," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(03), pages 575-600, September.
  4. Mokyr, Joel & Grada, Cormac O, 1982. "Emigration and poverty in prefamine Ireland," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 360-384, October.
  5. Cohn, Raymond L., 1984. "Mortality on Immigrant Voyages to New York, 1836–1853," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 44(02), pages 289-300, June.
  6. Todaro, Michael P, 1969. "A Model for Labor Migration and Urban Unemployment in Less Developed Countries," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(1), pages 138-48, March.
  7. Robert Summers & Alan Heston, 1991. "The Penn World Table (Mark 5): An Expanded Set of International Comparisons, 1950–1988," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 327-368.
  8. Cormac Ó Gráda, 1995. "The great Irish famine," Open Access publications 10197/363, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
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