The Boll Weevil's Impact on Racial Income Gaps in the Early Twentieth Century

68 Pages Posted: 5 May 2020 Last revised: 21 Jul 2021

See all articles by Karen Clay

Karen Clay

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Ethan Schmick

Muhlenberg College

Thomas Juster

University of Oxford

Date Written: May 2020

Abstract

This paper investigates the effect of a large negative agricultural shock, the boll weevil, on racial income gaps in the first half of the twentieth century. We draw on complete count census data to generate a new large linked sample of Black and white fathers and their sons. Fathers are observed before and after the arrival of the boll weevil in their county, and their sons are observed in their father’s household as children and again in 1940 as adults. In race specific difference-in-differences specifications and in triple differences specifications, we find that the boll weevil differentially affected wages of Black sons born after its arrival. Relative to white sons born after the boll weevil, Black sons born after the boll weevil saw a 6%increase in their wages. The magnitude of the effect is similar when the sample is constrained to sons whose father stayed in the South and to sons who stayed in the South. Evidence on changes in fertility and heights suggests that the relative gains were driven by improvements in early life conditions for Black sons born after the weevil’s arrival. The magnitude of the effect of the boll weevil on the Black-white wage gap can be better understood by comparing it with changes between 1940 and 1950, a period of rapid convergence. The boll weevil caused the Black-white wage gap to fall by roughly half of the decline between 1940 and 1950 in the South or a third of the decline nationally.

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Suggested Citation

Clay, Karen B. and Schmick, Ethan and Juster, Thomas, The Boll Weevil's Impact on Racial Income Gaps in the Early Twentieth Century (May 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27101, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3592178

Karen B. Clay (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Ethan Schmick

Muhlenberg College ( email )

Allentown, PA 18104
United States

Thomas Juster

University of Oxford

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