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Moving to the Right Place at the Right Time: The Economic Consequence of the Manchuria Plague of 1910-11 on Migrants (No.E2013004)


Dan Li+ Nan Li++
This Version: October 2013

Abstract: Using unique rural household survey data for Manchuria (Northeast China) from the 1930s, we measure the economic return to "luck" of moving to the right place at the right time. Manchuria, which attracted millions of migrants from North China in the first half of the twentieth century, was hit by a devastating pneumonic plague epidemic in 1910-11. Employing a differences-in-differences method, we find that the migrants who moved to plague-hit villages (rather than non-plague-hit villages) right after the plague ended (the 1912-13 cohort vs. later cohorts) prospered most: they owned at least 90% more land than those who failed to do so. Our main results hold after we control for other factors that influence the wealth of migrants and survive various robustness checks. Moreover, no evidence is found that those who made a good move generally "outsmarted" those who did not. Our findings confirm that the economic opportunities in a receiving locality encountered by lucky migrants have long-term welfare implications for them.

Keywords: Migrant, Pneumonic plague, Manchuria, China

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+ School of Economics, Fudan University, Room 302, No. 600 Guoquan Road, Shanghai 200433, P. R. China. Email:
++ Department of Economic History, The Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Room 517, Economic Building, No. 111 Wuchuan Road, Shanghai 200433, P. R. China. Email: