Moving West: Who Moved to California in the 1930s, Where They Came From, and Why We Think They Moved

Myron Gutmann , University of Colorado Boulder
Kerri Clement, University of Colorado Boulder
Dylan Connor, Arizona State University
Angela Cunningham, University of Colorado Boulder
Jeremy Mikecz, University of Southern California

This paper is about the people who moved to California between 1935 and 1940. Many migrants to California came from the drought-stricken southern U.S. Plains, going to work in agriculture, but there were streams of migrants from and to other regions, especially cities. Understanding those migration choices helps to understand how California developed in the 1930s. We use data from the full-count 1940 Census, which asked where people had lived five years earlier. Generally, migrants to California were like all migrants in the 1930s, in terms of race (white), sex (male), number of children (fewer), age (younger), distance moved (closer) and place of origin. They differed from the general flow of migrants by being more rural in origin and less well educated. The environmental shocks of the 1930s interrupted a longer-term migration system, temporarily shifting its population to one that was younger, less-well educated, and more grounded in agriculture.

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 Presented in Session 7. Migration & Urbanization