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Air Conditioning, #Migration, and #Climate-Related Wage and Rent Differentials; or why Northerners Moved South

March 31, 2015

This is an abstract of a piece that being the son of an air conditioning pioneer in Florida, I can relate to.  Before you skip to the link, notice his comments as he contributed a great deal of the original building code for Florida in an area when this technology first was implemented.

ABSTRACT This paper explores whether the spread of air conditioning in the United States from 1960 to 1990 affected quality of life in warmer areas enough to influence decisions about where to live, or to change North-South wage and rent differentials. Using measures designed to identify climates in which air conditioning would have made the biggest difference, I found little evidence that the flow of elderly migrants to MSAs with such climates increased over the period. Following Roback (1982), I analyzed data on MSA wages, rents, and climates from 1960 to 1990, and find that the implicit price of these hot summer climates did not change significantly from 1960 to 1980, then became significantly negative in 1990. This contrary to what one would expect if air conditioning made hot summers more bearable. I presented evidence that hot summers are an inferior good, which would explain part of the negative movement in the implicit price of a hot summer, and evidence consistent with the hypothesis that the marginal person migrating from colder to hotter MSAs dislikes summer heat more than does the average resident of a hot MSA, which would also exert downward pressure on the implicit price of a hot summer.

The link is here, his comments begin now.

He told me that he felt responsible, if not guilty that the d–m yankee’s relocated to the south, especially Florida.  This is particularly ironic as his parents migrated from Boston in the 1920’s, but this was decades before air conditioning.  That meant he spent his childhood growing up in an unairconditioned house in central Florida, a virtual hot house and the location of near 100% humidity.  As a side note, I spent a part of my childhood in an unairconditioned house also, but kids don’t care about what they don’t know.  We played outside in those days.

As he was a part of the team that designed the Epcot HVAC also, tourism wouldn’t have invaded and transformed the south either.  It’s too bad they didn’t figure out AC for the outdoors given the sweltering heat waiting in long lines at tourist attractions.

One can track the swelling of population to the south, particularly Florida to the invention of AC.  One side of the state tends to favor the mid-west (the more polite side) and the east southeast portion is now almost a southern borough of New York City.

He reckoned that what was once a polite southern state had become a haven for the same people that gave the USA a bad name abroad for their brash manners and self centered nature.  He also observed the voting dynamics being changed by the northeastern influence.

Conversely, the south would not have grown near as quickly business and tourism wise had it not been for this technological improvement.  I did enjoy one of the first air conditioned houses, but the heat combined with the imported people caused me to ultimately leave as the city I departed from (in south Florida) earned it’s reputation as the rudest city in the US the year before I left.

Additionally, it did raise wages in the south, although not enough for the liking of those who moved there.  It also turned sleepy little towns into booming tourist traps creating numerous jobs.

Worst of all he said was the level of complaining.  While the snowbirds moved there to get out of the cold, they then complained how everything was much better from (name the state or city) and how it was so hot outside.  Not the most political fellow, he invited them to move back occasionally.

One final difference was that in the south, people let you in when there is traffic. Up north it is a sport to cut someone off.

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