The economic legacy of the Great Migration

ANN ARBOR—When black Americans migrated out of the South in the 1930s and ’40s, their children benefited by leaps and bounds, according to a University of Michigan study using U.S. Census data.

Compared to a group that did not leave the South, the children of families who left the South graduated from high school at a rate 11 percent higher than their counterparts, made about $1,000 more per year in 2017 dollars and were 11 percent less likely to be in poverty.

The study, which was published in the journal, Demography, was the first to link parents’ 1940 data to their offspring through the U.S. Census. The study authors were U-M Institute for Social Research scientists Catherine Massey and J. Trent Alexander, in collaboration with Stewart Tolnay and Christine Leibbrand at the University of Washington.

At the turn of the 20th century, African-Americans in the South began leaving those states in droves in an event called the Great Migration. In 1900, less than 5 percent of southern-born blacks lived outside of the South. By the mid-20th century, about 20 percent of African-Americans lived outside their region of birth.

“These parents had mixed experiences. They had higher incarceration rates, but also higher incomes and more economic opportunities,” said Massey, an assistant research scientist at the Population Studies Center. “Our question was how this benefit transmits to children.”

For this study, researchers divvied up the country into two parts: the South and the “non-South.” The South includes 17 southern states such as Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and the Carolinas, and the non-South the rest of the country, including states such as Wisconsin and California. Still, industrial cities such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Detroit and Philadelphia saw the lion’s share of these migrants.

In this research, Massey and Alexander identified migrants living with their children in 1940, and followed those children through to the long-form Census in 2000, when they were mostly retirement age.

Part of the children’s gains can be attributed to the ambition of their parents. People who were able to make a cross-country move had characteristics that make success more attainable: These parents in particular made more and had higher levels of education than the Southern stayers. Massey and Alexander needed to control for these factors.

The statistics — that children of southern migrants graduate at a rate 11 percent higher than children who stay in the South and had higher incomes — were after controlling for parental characteristics. Before this control, the migrants’ children were between 30 and 48 percent more likely to graduate high school.

“What’s really clear is that a lot of these benefits happened because these parents are self-selecting — they are from a higher portion of the income and education distribution,” Massey said. “But even after we controlled for a parent’s education, occupation and income, we’re still finding these large gains. That suggests that there may be something about the opportunities in the North that they were benefiting from.”

Being able to link parents’ data with their children gave the researchers a crucial look at the children’s gains. If they hadn’t been able to connect the generations, the researchers wouldn’t have been able to control for education and income factors.

“If we had just studied the children of movers, we might have concluded that the children of the Great Migration were extraordinarily successful,” said Alexander, who is a research professor at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. “But knowing the parents were self-selecting, and controlling for that, allowed us to temper what would have been an extraordinary finding.”

Massey and Alexander hope that creating this set of data that links Census data will generate other compelling research. The data was made available from the Census Bureau via the Federal Statistical Research Data Centers and provided a new source of information for understanding population dynamics across the entire span of the 20th century.

“This is the first research that uses linked 1940 and 2000 Census data to study a population over time,” Alexander said. “I think this will be an important multipurpose data resource.”

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Morgan Sherburne,, 734-647-1844

U-M receives grant to study how low-cost family planning can improve women’s lives

Portrait of concerned young woman looking at pregnancy test

Photo Credit: Eyecandy Images/Thinkstock

ANN ARBOR—A University of Michigan economist will lead a grant of up to $5.9 million from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to study how reducing financial barriers to reproductive health care affects women’s lives.

As part of the Michigan Contraceptive Access, Research, and Evaluation Study (M-CARES), U-M researchers hope to learn whether subsidizing family planning services reduces rates of unintended pregnancy and childbearing but also whether it improves women’s education and workforce outcomes and physical and mental health.

“Access to reproductive health care is only our starting point,” said Martha Bailey, U-M professor of economics and research professor at ISR’s Population Studies Center, and principal investigator of M-CARES.

“M-CARES will examine how women’s lives can change when they have greater financial access to family planning services. Unplanned pregnancies can limit women’s education, employment and career advancement, or increase reliance on public assistance. This may reduce children’s opportunities and contribute to the cycle of poverty.”

These questions are especially pertinent in the current policy environment surrounding reproductive health care, Bailey says. After the November 2016 presidential election, the new administration proposed significant funding cuts for family planning care, through reductions in Medicaid and Title X funding. These cuts threaten financial access to reproductive health care for millions of American women.

“The proposed changes could eliminate services for 8 million women served through public funding,” Bailey said. “A repeal of the Affordable Care Act could also increase costs for women with private insurance if the contraceptive mandate is eliminated.”

Elimination of public funding for family planning services would increase rates of unintended pregnancy in the U.S. by 68 percent—and that public cost of those births could increase by 75 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

M-CARES aims to provide estimates of the consequences of eliminating funding for family planning services by quantifying the differences in various life outcomes for women who do and do not receive subsidies. The study will enroll several thousand women and survey them over a period of five years.

Bailey is joined by a team of leading U-M experts: Jennifer Barber, professor of sociology and research professor at the Population Studies Center; Vanessa Dalton, associate chair of research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and medical director at Planned Parenthood of Michigan; Daniel Eisenberg, professor of health management and policy at the School of Public Health and research professor at the Population Studies Center; and Alfia Karimova, assistant research scientist at the Population Studies Center.


Morgan Sherburne,, 734-647-1844

U-Michigan historian wins Pulitzer for Attica book

Heather Ann Thompson

Heather Ann Thompson

ANN ARBOR—A book by Heather Ann Thompson, professor and historian at the University of Michigan, has won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in history.

Thompson is the author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Pantheon, 2016). She is a professor in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and the Residential College. She also is a research affiliate in the Population Studies Center in the Institute for Social Research.

Winners were announced today. Thompson won in the category of Letters, Drama & Music “for a narrative history that sets high standards for scholarly judgment and tenacity of inquiry in seeking the truth about the 1971 Attica prison riots.”

“Dr. Heather Ann Thompson’s Pulitzer Prize in history is an outstanding example of our faculty’s talent and commitment to academic rigor being recognized at the highest levels,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “I am proud to congratulate her on this amazing achievement.”

Thompson spent more than a decade researching the 1971 prison uprising in upstate New York in which armed troopers and corrections officers killed 39 men – hostages as well as prisoners – and severely wounded more than 100 others during a four-day showdown inside Attica.

But the uprising comprises just one part of the book; Thompson focuses on the 45 years since. She delivers a detailed account of one of the most longstanding and horrific cover-ups in American history, and chronicles the victims’ decades-long quest for justice.

“The real villains in this story are neither the inmates nor the guards of Attica,” Thompson said, “but the officials outside the system who had the knowledge and power to enact reform, but chose to do nothing.”

Thompson said she was honored to receive the Pulitzer.

“It took me 13 years to finally recover the long-denied and hidden story of all that happened at Attica, and to shine light on what life is really like in places like Attica even today,” Thompson said. “I am so incredibly, incredibly honored and humbled by this news of the Puliizer. Blood in the Water chronicles the history of those many men, prisoners and hostages alike, at Attica who suffered so much trauma for daring to speak up, and I am so incredibly and deeply grateful that their story is being honored in this way.”

Arline Geronimus: dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusivity

Geronimus' Yearbook Picture

ANN ARBOR—For Arline Geronimus, attending Princeton in the 1970s was her first anthropological study. Like many similar institutions, the university was going through great change as it sought to diversify, allowing women to attend for the first time, increasing the admittance numbers of minorities and accepting more public school graduates. Some alumni actively contested the changes and formed a protest group, “Concerned Alumni of Princeton.” As a coed and a graduate of public schools, Geronimus was at the forefront of Princeton’s evolving student body.

Her outsider status was clear to her from the start. Geronimus’s freshman roommate confided that she wouldn’t dream of allowing her parents to spend more than $1,000 on a debutante ball gown. Geronimus didn’t know what a debutante gown was, but she was stunned her roommate felt she was being socially conscious and frugal by limiting the amount to a mere $1,000 — a huge sum in the 1970s and equivalent to roughly $5,000 today. “I very quickly saw college as an anthropological experience,” says Geronimus. “That perspective, combined with my political theory classes, allowed me to look at my time there analytically. It’s been an ongoing project over the decades since to understand what was going on and the broader implications for society.”

While an undergrad, Geronimus held two distinctly different jobs. On campus, she served as a research assistant to Charlie Westoff, then director of the Office of Population Research (OPR). Off campus, she taught at a school for pregnant teens in Trenton, N.J. Back then, the concept of teenage pregnancy as a social problem was a relatively new phenomenon, and the idea of teenage motherhood as a preventable condition was just starting to ramp up at OPR, which was generating all sorts of studies, campaigns and statistics on the topic.

A group of young men and women posing for a photo.

Geronimus’s Princeton Triangle Theater Group. She’s standing in the center of the front row.

Geronimus’s worlds collided when she brought 20 teen moms on campus to a show performed by her musical theater group, the Princeton Triangle Club. “These young women shared so much of their lives with me, and I wanted to share my life with them,” says Geronimus. “So I bought them the best seats in the house, front and center.”

Somewhat fatefully, the show took place during a reunion weekend, and the audience consisted almost exclusively of alumni. “If alums were worried about coeds and diversifying Princeton with the valedictorians from suburban public high schools, you can imagine their reaction to 20 pregnant Black and Latino girls sitting in the front row,” says Geronimus. “It caused a real stir. I only realize now how subversive this was.”

To Geronimus, the young women she taught and befriended were not the grim statistics she was learning about on campus. These were young women who were excited to become mothers and who faced all kinds of real health and economic problems completely separate from their pregnancies. Additionally, the alleged opportunities these pregnant teens were giving up to have their children – education, careers and other possibilities – simply didn’t exist in the first place. “I realized that taking the OPR perspective, I just didn’t get it, “ says Geronimus. “Whether or not having a baby in your teen years is a problem, there were other unrelated and unaddressed issues that no one would debate are real problems. Why not tackle those with the same fervor? At the time, I knew that somehow I have to figure this out and give voice to this population.”

Geronimus decided to study the relationship of maternal age to pregnancy outcomes for her dissertation. “We all believed that in terms of health outcomes, teenage pregnancy was bad because reproductive health works as a developmental process,” she says. “Teens were considered too biologically and psychosocially immature for healthy childbearing, and, in fact, descriptively, teen moms had worse pregnancy outcomes than moms in their 20s. But U.S. teen moms also came from the most disadvantaged groups.” Geronimus hypothesized that if she could statistically account for the prior disadvantages, then teen moms and moms in their 20s would have equally good birth outcomes.

But she was wrong. “I found that postponing childbirth beyond the teens led to higher risks for those in high poverty communities,” says Geronimus. As she began to think about the women she knew in Trenton and the stressors and health problems they encountered, especially compared to her classmates at Princeton of the same age, she could see that women aged differently and faster in marginalized populations than privileged populations. And having kids younger was responsive to those risks. That’s how the concept of “weathering” began.

The “weathering hypothesis,” which Geronimus coined, is a common thread throughout her body of research. Weathering is the idea that the accumulation of chronic stressors of life in a marginalized or oppressed population, and the high effort of coping with them, can accelerate aging. Weathering advances the perspective that population health disparities arise from the different life experiences associated with an unequal society.

Geronimus chose the metaphor because it conveys two seemingly contradictory meanings. “To weather means to be worn down, but it also means to withstand, such as weathering a storm,” she says. Both meanings apply to the experiences and actions of marginalized populations. Throughout her career, Geronimus has researched the sociological causes and physiological processes of weathering and the actions individuals, families and communities can take to “mitigate, resist, and undo” its adverse impacts.

In her most recent work, Geronimus develops an approach for reducing health disparities, one that targets the unequal social, economic and environmental contexts that damage population health and cause some populations to age faster. Geronimus calls this “Jedi Public Health,” in reference to a scene in a “Star Wars” movie, where the Jedi protagonists escape the confines of their social identity by using simple “mind tricks.” These tricks convince adversaries at a blockade to let them move along to complete their mission. Geronimus says that the real world social environment is filled with cues that signal inferiority to, or even threaten, marginalized groups. These cues contribute to weathering and make it difficult for members of such groups to move forward in the directions they need or wish to go.

While larger policy changes are needed, Geronimus says small changes can have a big impact on health outcomes. One example is placing demographic questions (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity and income) at the end rather than the beginning of high-stakes tests. That way, members of stigmatized groups are less likely to take the tests hampered by a stereotype threat, a condition that undermines test performance and also activates the physiological stress process. The accumulation of many small changes like this could have real health benefits for marginalized populations.

This spring, the commitment Geronimus made to answering questions about equity was recognized with the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award. The award is given to University of Michigan (U-M) faculty members who have exhibited outstanding leadership in the area of cultural diversity. Since those Princeton days, Geronimus’s life has revolved around diversity, equity and inclusion. She says receiving this award not only validates the work she’s done, but that it’s also brought her inspiration.

The other six recipients include distinguished faculty from the Medical School, College of Engineering, School of Education, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. “It was encouraging to hear about the work of the other awardees, who are promoting not only diversity, but also equity and inclusion, which are harder to achieve in my view,” says Geronimus. “The commitment to creating equity and inclusion, as well as numerical diversity, has to come from within the school. It was great to learn about a whole range of people across campus who are working to make U-M more equitable.”

Geronimus knows a thing or two about improving equality on campus. The number of minority doctoral students in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the School of Public Health grew dramatically during her time as chair of the program. Sherman James, who served as the department chair at the time, praises Geronimus for her transformative leadership. “Dr. Geronimus’s strong, international reputation, combined with her commitment to mentoring racial and ethnic minority students, were essential early on to the success of the School of Public Health’s Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health,” says James.

Under Geronimus, the doctoral program increased from eight students enrolled at any stage and no minorities to 42 students enrolled in the program, nearly half of whom were from underrepresented groups. One of the students Geronimus advised as both a graduate student and postdoctoral trainee, Jay Pearson – now an assistant professor of Public Policy at Duke – says Geronimus’s impact goes beyond the university. “The results can be seen in the diversification of the public health scientific workforce, where many of my diverse doctoral cohorts work in tenure-track positions or in professional capacities at the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” says Pearson. “Arline recognizes, appreciates and supports the tenuous social realities that are more likely to characterize the lived social experiences of a broader, more diverse student population. She often argued for the creation and maintenance of emergency funding for students in difficult financial situations. She’s worked tirelessly to promote diversity among doctoral students and increase the likelihood that these diverse voices might be meaningfully heard.”

Javier Rodriguez, a former postdoctoral trainee under Geronimus who is now a health researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, says Geronimus continues to serve as an adviser. “Even now, years after I finished my postdoc at the Population Studies Center, Arline continues to mentor me on the demanding task of effectively supporting researchers in positions of disadvantage,” says Rodriguez. “She provides me with a unique set of tools that allows me to give back – with the same enthusiasm – to the disadvantaged communities I come from. Arline welcomes scholars whose probability of success would otherwise be quite low, and that is true mentoring.”

Over the course of her career, Geronimus has published more than 65 academic papers in peer-reviewed journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, International Journal of Epidemiology, Health Affairs and Demography, as well in other fields, including anthropology, economics and political science. She has served on 40 dissertation committees, 15 of which she was chair, and served as a primary advisor to more than 50 Master in Public Health students. She also was the founding director of the Public Health Demography Training Program at the Population Studies Center (PSC). In 2013, she was elected to the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academies of Science and received the U-M School of Public Health’s Excellence in Research Award.

“Arline has been a pioneer and continual leader in the field of population health,” says Jeffrey Morenoff, director of PSC. “She’s repeatedly demonstrated intellectual excellence and a commitment to cultural diversity in all aspects of her work – service, teaching, mentoring and scholarship. Arline has helped increase diversity within her academic units and the university, has solidified a commitment to diversity as part of the university’s educational mission, and has relentlessly strived to bring about equity in society.”

Geronimus calls herself a child of the ’60s, growing up in a town outside of Boston in the midst of extraordinary social and political movements, all of which affected her deeply. The middle child of three girls, she saw firsthand the difference public education could make. Both her mother and father held college degrees thanks to New York City’s impressive public college system. “I think my parents’ journey from large, immigrant families to first-generation college graduates informed my sense of why it’s so important to include everyone, to hear everyone’s voices, to turn to people who know from their lived experience what matters to them and what would make a difference,” says Geronimus. “It was all very formative, and it’s almost no surprise that I ended up doing what I’m doing.”

Geronimus says she’s at her happiest when she spends time with her husband and young adult children. And while her three children have chosen very different career paths – two are aspiring hip hop artists and one is in rabbinical school – Geronimus says she still sees pieces of herself and her values in the lives they’ve chosen to pursue. “I’m so fascinated by this generation, especially with my children, and how they’ve picked up core values from our ancestors,” says Geronimus. “I can see why each of my children chose their path. I see those permutations combined with their own passion and their own approach. And in that sense, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Geronimus's adult children.

Geronimus’s adult children.

Many U.S. women have children by more than one man

Mother with children on park bench (Photo by Thinkstock)The first national study of the prevalence of multiple partner fertility shows that 28 percent of all U.S. women with two or more children have children by more than one man. The study was presented April 1 in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America. Continue reading

Fifty years of change in population studies

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Fifty years ago, when the ISR Population Studies Center was founded, the burning issues in population studies looked starkly different from today. Rising birth rates—coupled with increased longevity—were raising widespread fears that the world’s resources would be overwhelmed. The Population Bomb was still seven years away; in it, biologist author Paul Ehrlich would famously declare that “hundreds of millions of people will starve to death” by the 1970s. But researchers, policymakers, and foundations were already searching for ways to avert what many feared would be a broad humanitarian disaster. Continue reading