In the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, housing market bust, and recession, there has been increased scholarly interest in trends in geographic mobility in the U.S., and especially in the behavior of mobility during times of economic fluctuation. Mounting evidence points to a downward trend in geographic mobility in the U.S. exacerbated in multiple ways by the economic downturn. Recent work indicates that, since World War II, mobility has typically declined during recessions and that over the past several years housing market factors such as negative equity, mortgage lock-in, and property tax lock-in exert a strong negative effect on household mobility.

If indeed the "Great Recession" has seen a cyclical fall in geographic mobility, it would shed light on the slow nature of the current recovery in employment growth and carry important implications for policy-making. For instance, since late 2009, there has been in increase in the ratio of job openings to unemployed workers. In normal times, an increase in the number of job openings would be accompanied by a fall in the unemployment rate, but for the past two years there has been essentially no associated fall in unemployment. One hypothesis suggests that this may be evidence of "mismatch" in the labor market: an inability of firms to hire workers who would otherwise move to find work, due to an unusually strong reduction in mobility rates brought on by the unusually strong recession. Determining the importance of mismatch in explaining the slow recovery of unemployment rates in the past three recessions, and especially the Great Recession, is a significant ongoing subject of economic research.

The aim of this research project is to understand the effects of the Great Depression on geographic and occupational mobility in the U.S. during the 1930s. This research project will contribute to our understanding of the economics and history of the Depression itself and to our understanding of the effect of economic fluctuations on mobility generally by exploring the effects of the Great Depression on geographic and occupational mobility in the U.S. during the decade of the 1930s. To achieve these goals, the PI along with a team of undergraduate research collaborators will construct and analyze a rich new data source that will allow us to explore these issues in fundamentally new ways. What is currently known about geographic mobility during the Depression comes from the population censuses of the early twentieth century, an imperfect source for studying mobility and migration, as it depends on the observation of children's birthplaces to infer changes of location; and is therefore restricted to married men with young children. This group is not representative of the entire population, or of the sub-population with highest mobility rates: the young, single, and/or childless.

Recently, new data sources and empirical techniques have dramatically increased our ability to study mobility in an historical time frame. The research project proposed here would exploit these new techniques and new data from the 1940 census that has become available in the spring of 2012 in order to construct linked panel datasets spanning the Depression decade and the two previous decades.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Kwabena Gyimah-Brempong
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Wheaton College
United States
Zip Code