The sheer magnitude of the second migration and its duration suggest that people from a wide range of social classes, age groups, and economic levels were drawn into it at different times and places. There are strong indications, however, that, as is usually the case, the second Great Migration was selective - drawing on that part of the black population best able to take and benefit from the risks associated with leaving home for an unfamiliar city.
It appears that the initial wartime migrants were more likely to be urban and/or wage laborers, rather than the simple "peasants turned cityward" that they were often characterized as. The displacement of tenants and sharecroppers during the 1930s had already moved thousands of black families into urban wage labor, and often sent them to the cities. The Southern urban black population had grown tremendously over the preceding decades. During the 1920s alone, major metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, and Memphis had experienced growth rates ranging from 41 to 86 percent. Even in Mississippi, still the most rural Southern state, the black urban population had increased from 5 to 7 percent between 1890 and 1940. The black populations in Louisiana and Oklahoma, two major sources for the Western migration, were substantially urban by 1940 (52 percent and 47 percent, respectively).
The migrants were largely people who had already made the transition to urban life, or at least to wage labor, and who were generally better educated than their non-migrating neighbors.
In addition, given the increase in the Northern urban population due to the Great Migration, potential migrants probably had access to many more informal networks of communication about jobs than earlier migrants had. Many people already had kinfolk in the Northern and Western cities who could provide both information about jobs and support.
World War II had a significant impact on gender relations and the status of women, black and white. For black women, its impact was especially marked because of their significant - though still limited - recruitment into the defense industries and their rejection of private domestic labor.
During World War I, black women migrants were not heavily recruited for industrial labor; indeed, many moved from Southern household help to the same jobs up North. By contrast, the federal censuses of 1940 and 1950 show a nationwide reduction, from 24 percent to 15.1 percent, in the number of blacks employed in domestic labor. For Southern women, the change was even more dramatic. In many cities, the proportion of the black female labor force confined to private domestic work exceeded 70 percent before World War II. These numbers had plunged by the postwar period - in Atlanta, from 70 percent in domestic labor in 1940 to 50 percent ten years later. Although this often simply meant that women did the same kind of labor in non-domestic settings (in a commercial laundry, for example), the change was generally accompanied by better wages and benefits, and sometimes by unionization.
In the first years of the migration, men were twice as likely to travel to the more distant destinations than women, who tended to stay closer to the South. But this was a temporary phenomenon, because over the entire period of the second migration, migrants were more likely to be married than non-migrants. Just as during the Great Migration, people used various strategies, including wives following husbands, wives and husbands migrating together but leaving their children in the care of grandparents until they got settled, and single women joining relatives in distant cities.