DP15008 International Migration Responses to Natural Disasters: Evidence from Modern Europe's Deadliest Earthquake

Author(s): Yannay Spitzer, Gaspare Tortorici, Ariell Zimran
Publication Date: July 2020
Keyword(s): Age of Mass Migration, Italy, migration, Natural Disasters, Refugees, US Immigration
JEL(s): F22, J61, N3, O15, Q54
Programme Areas: Development Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15008

The Messina-Reggio Calabria Earthquake (1908) was the deadliest earthquake and arguably the most devastating natural disaster in modern European history. It occurred when overseas mass emigration from southern Italy was at its peak and international borders were open, making emigration a widespread phenomenon and a readily available option for disaster relief. We use this singular event and its unique and important context to study the effects of natural disasters on international migration. Using commune-level data on damage and annual emigration, we find that, despite massive destruction, there is no evidence that the earthquake had, on average, a large impact on emigration or its composition. There were, however, heterogeneous and offsetting responses to the shock, with a more positive effect on emigration in districts where agricultural day laborers comprised a larger share of the labor force, suggesting that attachment to the land was an impediment to reacting to the disaster through migration. Nonetheless, relative to the effects of ordinary shocks, such as a recession in the destination, this momentous event had a small impact on emigration rates. These findings contribute to literatures on climate- and disaster-driven migration and on the Age of Mass Migration.