Migration as adaptation to drought

Labor market integration and long-run health effects of local environmental shocks: Evidence from South Africa
Taryn Dinkelman

Abstract: Geographic, institutional and political features of developing economies often create significant barriers to the spatial integration of labor markets. In this paper, I ask whether constraints on spatial mobility prevent families from using labor migration to protect infant health from local shocks to the environment, with potential long-run consequences for health human capital accumulation. Working in the context ofapartheid-era limits on free labor migration that affected different parts of South Africa to different degrees and relying on quasi-experimental variation in local drought conditions, I use Census data to construct migration histories and show that adult outmigration from the oldest homeland areas – those areas least integrated with the national labor market – was substantially lower than outmigration from other rural areas during drought years. Then, using a nationally representative dataset of South African women born between 1940 and 1988 and a difference-in-difference-in-differences research design, I show that women born in these oldest homeland areas and exposed to drought in infancy are significantly shorter in adulthood. These results highlight an important source of welfare gain from spatially integrating labor markets where local environmental shocks are prevalent.

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