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Migration, Diversity, and Economic Development: How post-WWII Population Transfers Remade Europe

WWII and its aftermath precipitated the largest episode of forced migration in history. In 1944-51, nearly 20 million people, including 12 million Germans and 5 million Poles, were uprooted from their homes and resettled elsewhere. This unprecedented redistribution of population profoundly diversified societies within states. Migrants coming from different regions, espousing different religious beliefs, and speaking different dialects suddenly shared close quarters with one another. The book asks how they learned to live together and why some uprooted populations are economically better off than others today.

Map of migrant diversity in territories transferred from Germany to Poland.

Using hand-collected archival and census data from Poland and Germany, I show that the erosion of informal norms and networks in communities where migrants and natives were culturally distant from one another shored up the role of formal state institutions in the provision of public goods and welfare. Greater willingness to engage with state institutions in communities diversified through forced migration contributed to the accumulation of state capacity over time and paid off in the long run: such communities register higher entrepreneurship and personal incomes than more homogeneous counterparts.

The project challenges the predominant view in political science and economics that migration and cultural diversity erode institutional quality and lower the provision of public goods and welfare and suggests that although cultural differences increase social conflict in the short run, they can generate superior institutional and economic outcomes in the long run.