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Christine Leibbrand, Catherine Massey, J. Trent Alexander, Stewart Tolnay


Using novel panel data spanning 1940–2000, we examine the adult offspring of the Great Migration who returned to the South. We observe two types of return migrants: (1) southern-born, “lifetime” return migrants who were born in the South, resided outside of the South in 1940, and returned to the South by 2000, and (2) northern-born, “generational” return migrants whose parents were born in the South but who, themselves, were born in the North, resided in the North in 1940, and had returned to the South by 2000. These data also allow us to observe return migrants and their parents over a longer period of time than any previous data source, permitting us to consider the early-life predictors of return migration. We find that generational migrants comprise a sizeable segment of all second-generation return migrants to the South and that these migrants are positively selected on their own and their parents’ socioeconomic characteristics, relative to the second-generation migrants who remain in the North. Conversely, southern-born, lifetime, return migrants are negatively selected. Our investigation provides a broader and more representative view of who return migrants are and illustrates the underappreciated importance of generational ties to place for migration decisions.

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