Moving to Adaptation? Understanding the Migratory Response to Hurricanes in the United States


Using data on the paths of all hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin from 1992 to 2017, this paper studies whether migration has served as a form of adaptation to hurricane risk. The findings show that on average hurricanes have little to no impact on county out-migration, with population-weighted exposure to hurricanes increasing slightly over the sample period. Counties with high economic activity see net in-migration in the years after a hurricane. Further, return migration likely plays a role in offsetting any out-migration in the year of the storm. The intensity of pre-hurricane migration between county pairs is a strong predictor of excess migration after a hurricane, suggesting that existing economic and social ties dominate in post-hurricane migration decisions. Given existing policies and incentives, the economic and social benefits that people derive from living in high-risk areas currently outweigh the incentive to adapt to future storms by relocating across counties.

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper