Migration (demography)

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Migration is the field of demography that studies the causes, patterns, and consequences of large-scale permanent change in residence. The basic tools are statistical analysis of census data and surveys. It is a major topic in historical demography, which traces the large-scale movement of populations over time and space. Migration is the process of moving out, while immigration is the process of moving in.


Migration is defined as any permanent change in residence An emigrant is one who leaves a place, and an immigrant is a new arrival.

Internal migration is changing political units inside the country, for example, move between cities or states inside USA. A person had to change labor markets to be considered a migrant; that is, the new location is too far away to commute to work.

International migration is a move between two countries. It is legal if the immigrant follows the new country's legal procedures for permanent arrivals. Illegal immigrants may sneak across a border or, more often, stay longer than their temporary visa allows. An alien is a citizen of one country living in another; temporary aliens are visitors. Refugees are people unable or unwilling to return home because of fear of persecution

Movers: local moves are common, but not considered migration because the person stays inside the same labor market. (That is, within commuting range.) Business travelers, tourists, and students are considered temporary visitors and are not counted as migrants. To enter another country they usually need an official "visa" which specifies how long they are allowed to stay. Also not considered migrants are homeless; and sojourners or guest workers. In actual practice,. However, guest workers often stay for long periods of time.

Measures Of Migration

Migration is conceptually much harder to pin down than birth, death or aging; it is also more difficult to measure. United States data on internal migration comes chiefly from Census questions which ask where a person lived one year ago or five years ago. Countries with population registers can track where every person is at all times. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (before 2003 called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)) attempts to keep track of immigrants into the United States, and prepares annual statistical reports. However no one tracks emigrants who leave the US permanently.

Explanator models: The Push Pull Theory

According to Ravenstein's push-pull theory, adverse factors at home can "push" people out, making them want to emigrate. Attractive factors abroad can "pull" people in. The model is not deterministic—many more people think about migrating than actually do so, and chance and luck plays large roles.

The most important push factor is difficulty in making a good living at home. In an agricultural society, there may be a shortage of land and a surplus of workers, so that over time either the farms become smaller, or the excess population leaves agriculture. In an urban society if there is stagnation in industry, unemployment results unless people leave. In any given place, some people will be strongly rooted and others will be more eager to move on. For example, eldest sons who are in line to inherit the family farm would be more rooted than younger sons with poor prospects of ever owning land. Workers unhappy with their jobs or pessimistic about future prospects would be more willing to consider a move to improve their possibilities.

Other push factors include religious or ethnic persecution, or the threat of war, famine or other disaster, or a general pessimism and malaise about the future.

Pull factors are attractions that exist in the destination, especially freedom to achieve and prosper. The psychological conviction that life will be better at the destination is a powerful pull factor, reinforced by images in the media, and especially by optimistic letters home from successful immigrants and cash remittances. The most important attractions are good jobs, (especially in the 19th century) land for farming, and a sense that the new land offers more freedom and opportunity.

The decision can be analyzed though a cost-benefit analysis of the push and pull factors. If a person judges the pull and push factors outweigh the cost or disadvantages of moving the person is likely to move. If the costs outweigh the pull and push factors, the person is not likely to move. Furthermore it takes time to move; many people stay around to build up cash reserves or gain educational credentials. However, even when someone decides to move intervening obstacles play a role. Long distances, the expense of moving, poor health, fears about the drastic changes in a far-off land, and family obligations may induce a person who wants to move to stay home.


The people most likely to migrate are young adults, especially young men. People with more assets (such as cash or education or adventurous personality) would be more likely to leave. Looked at the other way, people who want to leave for one reason or another will try to save money, get more skills or schooling, and avoid long-term commitments. In practice, most migration is “chained.” People follow a chain of kinfolk who have already settled in a new area, and who provide information, money and encouragement for others to follow. (Of course, they can also warn that conditions are poor, and don’t come right now.)

A person has to be old enough to be independent of the family to make the decision to migrate. A century ago people aged 15 to 20 were full time workers and could make independent decisions themselves. Today, academic credentials are much more important, and migration decisions usually come after people finish high school or college. Today in the US, migration peaks for young adults in their twenties. By the late thirties they have usually settled down, geographically.

Divorce and separation are events that stimulate the sense it's time to move on. For married couples, additional children produce rootedness; the fewer the number of children in school the easier it is to migrate. If both spouses are working, migration rates are lower because it's harder to find two equally good jobs. The phenomenon of a couple migrating because the wife has a good job offer, with the husband training along, is becoming more common, but the usual pattern is that the husband's job is paramount. On the other hand, large corporations that want to move their executives around the country or around the world are discovering that they must help find employment opportunities for the spouse, and also guarantee high quality living conditions and good schools.

The higher the education level, usually the greater the migration rate; people with better education are better able to identify good jobs at a distance and more likely to be hired because recruiters for high paying jobs cast their net regionally or nationally. Recruiters are seldom able to look worldwide, because countries such as the US and Canada make it difficult to offer jobs to non-citizens living abroad. (The reason is to prevent companies or universities from going abroad in search of cheaper workers.) In addition, people who want to migrate in the first place may invest more in their education. Finally, more education (especially past the bachelor's degree) makes people specialists who are drawn to national centers for their specialty. The migrants typically have higher levels of education than their neighbors who stay home. However, many groups—such as Mexican immigrants to the US, have less education than average in their destination.

Brain Drain refers to the migration of well-educated craftsmen or professional out of poor countries to richer ones, where they are paid much more. Thus poor Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt have lost many workers to oil-rich neighbors such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. India educates many physicians and engineers who migrate to the USA and Britain. Usually the emigrants remit money back to relatives in the old country, and also help relatives emigrate themselves. Over the long-term, elite schools in the donor area come to specialize in training that will be used by the emigrants after they leave.

Decision-making models

We can conceptualize the migration decision process. A decision model shows the factors that go into making a decision to migrate. Many factors are involved, such as personal background resources (age, education, skills, savings), community norms, psychological outlook (risk-takers will move; risk avoiders will stay put), and information available.

The Neoclassical model assumes that people move toward higher paying jobs, and areas where the number of jobs is growing. This simple model explains much of the volume of flow of international and internal migration. When an economic downturn hits the host country (as in the US in the Panic of 1893, or again in the Great Depression of 1929), job seekers immediately stop coming. The model focuses on the individual and ignores family and community needs and values.

The New Household Economics expands the neoclassical model by looking at household or family as the unit, instead of the individual. Families act to maximize economic opportunities and also to minimize risk. They can send family members in different directions to explore multiple opportunities at the same time. They will send young people to high-wage areas and expect them to send remittances home. This model explains why people return home, and why chain migration takes place (that is some family members keep arriving because they have been pre-scheduled, even when the economy of the host country is in a downturn).

Network models emphasize the links among family members. In actual practice, much migration is “chain migration”. People are linked in families and clans; migrants send money back to the family to bring additional emigrants out; they all chain together, settle near one another, and help each other financially.

The Dual Labor Market assumes that in every country there are good jobs in the "primary sector" (with high pay and career tracks) and poor jobs in the "secondary sector" (low-pay, high turnover, no career path). A society fills the good jobs first and then looks around for second-class people to fill the bad jobs, pulling in immigrants as needed (and expelling them when not needed.)

The World Systems Theory argues that the industrialization of the world over the last three centuries involves a "Core" (western Europe and the US), which dominates the rest of the globe (the Periphery). The Core sucks in the resources it needs from the Periphery, such as oil, raw materials and people.

Institutional approaches are not a theory, but they call on the researcher to pay attention to laws and organizations such as steamship companies (1840-1920) and ethnic-group self-help societies.

International Migration

Voluntary Migrations

Tens of millions of Europeans migrated to the Americas since 1492. They are still trickling in, but the largest flow came between 1860 and 1914. (World War I closed the borders and froze people in place.) Not all stayed—of the 38 million who entered the USA, about 12 million (one-third) eventually returned home. There have been other great migrations as well, including the Chinese diaspora in Pacific rim, totaling about 28 million people. After World War Two, there were large movements from poor countries in southern and eastern Europe to the richer more industrial nations, such as Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden.


The most important forced migration in history was the capture and transportation of about 10 million Africans to slave plantations in the Caribbean and Brazil. (About 300,000 went to America.)

History has many examples of “ethnic cleansing” or systematic expulsion of groups, often accompanied by massacres. The Moors and Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. In the 1830s Indian tribes were removed from eastern USA to reservations in what is now Oklahoma. 15,000 Cherokees went on the Trail of Tears," 1838; 25% died en-route. In World War Two, some 5 million Jews were removed from Central and Eastern Europe by the Nazis, and then systematically killed in what is known as the Holocaust.

Religious-based violence forced 14-18 million people to move between India and Pakistan when the two countries were separated in the late 1940s. Hindus went to India and Muslims went to Pakistan; millions were killed in the upheaval. Political refugees have become an important factor in the world in the 20th century. Civil wars have often forced people to flee for their safety. During the Mexican civil war (1911-20), over a million political refugees fled to USA; most returned when stability returned. Over 4 million people fled Afghanistan during its civil war in the 1980s, most to neighboring Pakistan (31,000 came to the USA). During the Cold War (1947-1989) millions of political refugees fled Communist countries, including 3.7 million from East Germany to West Germany.


Many countries relax their usual immigration restrictions in order to admit political refugees—perhaps this is the “huddled masses” reference in a poem on the Statue of Liberty. The US admitted 1.4 million, including 580,000 from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and 413,000 from the former USSR. From 30,000 to 40,000 each came from Iran, Romania, Poland, Bosnia, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan

The chief sending and receiving countries change every decade, though the USA is usually the largest recipient. By 2000 the largest donor countries were China, Mexico and India.


The impact of immigration on the donor countries is modest. Things don’t happen; emigration reduces the available workforce, and thereby tends to raise wages. The Brain Drain effect, however, keeps the level of technology and complexity lower than it would otherwise have been. Remittances from the emigrants can be a major factor in very poor countries, such as Haiti. Mexico receives over $2 billion a year from emigrants. This money is mostly spent on consumer goods; it has a "multiplier" effect that makes the whole community better off, not just the relatives who receive the money.

The largest host destinations in 2000 were: USA, Germany, and Canada.

Migration to US

Colonial era

Large-scale immigration populated America in the Colonial Era (1600-1775), The largest numbers came from England, and others from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands. The great majority became farmers, in some cases after a few years as an indentured servant. (Young people signed a servitude contract with a ship master who transported them to the American colonies, then sold their contract to a farmer who needed a laborer.) In addition, about 300,000 African slaves were brought in, chiefly from the Caribbean.

19th century

Flows slacked off between 1776 and the 1840s, then picked up rapidly. The so-called "Old Immigration" saw large numbers arrive, 1840-1880, from Germany, Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia. Many settled on farms in the Middle West; others worked as laborers and craftsmen in eastern and midwestern cities.

20th century

After 1890 the inflow became even larger, and originated chiefly in eastern and southern Europe, especially Italians, Poles and Jews. Most of these “new immigrants” worked in low-skill jobs in larger cities, or in coal mines and smaller mill towns. Cultural differences led to fears that society would be drastically changed; hence restrictions and quotas were imposed in the 1920s designed to stabilize the distribution of ethnicity. The first restrictions were against the Chinese in the 1880s.

After 1910, large numbers of Mexicans migrated north to USA. Between 1940 and 1992, 1.2 million Mexicans were admitted with legal documents; another 4.6 million came temporarily as farm workers or "braceros"; and a net figure of around 4 million entered without documents ("illegals"). The status of 2.3 million of the last-named was legalized under a 1986 law. As a result of these migrations and a high birth rate, by 1998 the population of Hispanic origin comprised xx percent of the total US population, two-thirds being from Mexico and the rest from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Central America. In general they hold less-skilled jobs, have low incomes, high dropout rates from school, and high fertility.


Asian immigration to USA came in three phases. From 1850-1880 about 165,000 Chinese arrived, brought in to build railroads; most returned to China, and because few Chinese women arrived, the numbers of Chinese-Americans shrank. In 1900-10, Japanese farm workers arrived in California and Hawaii. Public opinion in the West was quite hostile to the Chinese and Japanese, and numerous laws were passed that tried to stop or slow the inflow. After 1965 racial quotas were ended, and large numbers of Asians began arriving. They included Chinese from the Chinese Diaspora, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Indians, as well as smaller numbers from other lands. The majority settle in California.

Migration transition

A country that undergoes the “migration transition” switches from being a labor exporter to labor importer: Push becomes Pull

In 1880-1920 Italy, was a major emigration area, with millions leaving for the USA, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. Most came from the poor south of Italy. In recent years Italy has become rich; emigration has tapered off, and now it has become a magnet for immigrants from Africa, with over 500,000 arriving in 1992.

Millions of Germans emigrated (especially to the US) in the 19th century. It became an importer after World War Two, and again after the Cold War ended in 1989, of millions of German political refugees from Eastern Europe. As the West German economy boomed, it brought in some 19 million Turkish, Slavic and Italian guest workers ("Gastarbeiter"). Five million of these "guests" brought their families and stayed permanently, but they are not accorded full citizenship status.

Puerto Rico, became part of the USA in 1898, and the residents gained full citizenship status in 1917. Millions emigrated from the poor island to the much richer mainland, especially New York City and environs. Recently, immigrants from Cuba and the Dominican Republic migrated to Puerto Rico, attracted by higher wages and the island’s Spanish language and culture.

The USA has primarily been a destination for immigrants. Most of the emigration out of the USA has been of immigrants who stayed for a while then returned home. However, there has been a small flow to Canada.

Models of adaptation

Assimilation or acculturation is the process by which immigrants blend into the host community. Historically it has meant adopting a new language, diet, clothes and living standards. Always the children and young people lead the way. Generational tensions erupt when the assimilating youngsters ridicule the "old fashioned" or "old country" ways of their elders.

The Melting Pot model of assimilation in the United States holds that eventually all the immigrants can and should melt or blend into one common American nationality, with few remnants of the donor culture remaining. The chief mechanisms are intermarriage between groups, a common language, and a common education experience. By contrast, the Salad Bowl model of assimilation in the United States holds that immigrants form distinctive ethnic groups with distinctive cultural traits. The mutual tolerance of all the ethnic groups produces a "multicultural" society.

The consequences of immigration are seen as positive and negative. Positive effects include economic growth, new ideas and new skills, and multiculturalism. However, the inhabitants of the receiving area may develop negative views (called "xenophobia" or "nativism") regarding immigrants, especially if they are seen as culturally or religiously different, or seem to threaten wage levels. If wage levels are threatened, the response is usually political pressure to reduce the overall flow of immigration. If cultural differences seem threatening, the response is usually political pressure to stop or reduce the flow of immigrants from particular areas. Thus in the late 19th century the US, Canada and Australia made systematic efforts to stop all immigration from Asia, especially China and Japan. For the first half of the 20th century "White Australia" was national policy in that country, but since 1970 it has moved toward multiculturalism.

In the 1920s the US decided it had enough people and sharply reduced the maximum numbers allowed to immigrate. It also imposed quotas, or a maximum allowed for each country. There were no quotas on immigration from Mexico or elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. The quota system was replaced in 1965 with the current system, which gives priority to relatives of legal immigrants, and to people with good education or economically valuable skills. The main impact was to allow an enormous expansion of immigration from Asia, and to limit the number of Mexicans who could enter legally. In the 1990s, after considerable controversy, California has passed laws restricting the benefits accorded to immigrants and their children.

Internal Migration

The classical internal migration pattern is from poor to better-off areas. In Italy the main movement is from the south to the north; in Britain, from Scotland and the now-depressed cities of early industrialization to London and the south of England; in Brazil, from the northeast to the south and especially to Sao Paulo.

In recent decades, there has been heavy migration from rural areas to very large cities in developing countries.

In USA, while immigrants from abroad head for the largest cities, native whites migrate to suburbs or small towns, and blacks head to large cities. According to historian Frederick Jackson Turner, the process of a moving frontier decisively shaped American character. Millions of Americans moved westward in the 200 years before the frontier closed in 1890, making the nation adventurous, equalitarian, and violent

US Sunbelt, 1940- . Millions of people every decade since 1940 have migrated to the “Sun Belt” states of California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.

African Americans migrated in large numbers from southern farms to cities, 1917-1970 (especially larger northern cities). In the 1990s there was a small reverse migration of African Americans from northern cities to southern cities. (Very few returned to rural areas.) Seven of the ten metropolitan areas, gaining the most blacks between 1990 and 1996, were in the South, which is projected to retain over half of the nation's black population for the foreseeable future

Government policies. For most of the history of the US, Canada and Australia, states/provinces and localities tried to encourage new arrivals, and discourage outward emigration. California tried to discourage Chinese and Japanese immigrants, 1870-1940, but in the last 30 years has welcomed Asian immigrants. Since 1970 some places have a sense of being filled up, and have tried to discourage new growth. This is often done through zoning laws that restrict the construction of new housing. In less developed countries, recent policies have tried to reduce the huge inflow of people into overlarge cities.


Urbanization is the process of population shifting from the countryside to cities. "Urban" is a confusing word with many connotations. To census officials it means a location with more than 2,500 people. To most people "urban" conjures up New York or Phoenix, rather than a small crossroads village. The sense of urban as "urbane" indicates sophistication and culture. On the other hand, "urban problems" connotes poverty, crime, homelessness and decay. Using the old definition of urban = 2500 population, the USA became 50% urban for the first time in 1920. Everything that is not "urban" by the old definition was "rural." Rural encompassed farmers, and also small towns and villages. Dramatic improvements in agricultural productivity have sharply reduced the number of farmers needed; in 1900, 42 percent of Americans were farmers; today the figure is under 2 percent, and many people who live on farms have non-farm jobs as well--they commute to work by auto, of course.)

More recently the US Census Bureau has focused on "metropolitan areas" which comprise the center city and its suburbs. Basically the idea is to define an economic unit, with the boundaries determined by commuting patterns. In 1990, half (49%) of the American population lived in 30 metropolitan areas, headed by the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago areas. In 1990, New York metropolitan area encompassed about 20 million people living in four states, while 15 million lived in the Los Angeles area.

Cities perform many roles. Before 1800, cities were relatively few and small. They served as political, administrative and religious centers, and as trade centers. They had to import food, of course, and this was done by political power (i.e. through compulsory taxes), and profits from trade. With the industrial revolution, machinery created factories that created goods that could be sold for food. Industrialization went hand in hand with urbanization, first in England and then in the United States and western Europe, and then Japan. In recent decades many factories have been closed and the economic base of cities has shifted to services, such as education, medicine, government and entertainment.

Two models help explain the role of cities. The core-periphery model emphasizes the political and economic control exerted over a region by institutions headquartered in the city. Government is based there, and so too are corporate headquarters. The second explanation, modernization theory, emphasizes the superior efficiency in cities. All the factors of production are close together, and it is easier there to make decisions, assemble a labor force, and coordinate many complex activities.

Historically, cities could barely reproduce themselves. In the early stages of growth they had very high mortality rates, but that problem was largely solved by public health measures. Thus in the early 20th century US cities obtained poor food, water and milk, and built good waste disposal systems. The birth rates in cities have always been lower than in rural areas (on the farm, an extra hand soon pays for itself, but not in the it just means overcrowding and more bills.)

The great majority of Europeans--more than three in five--now live in cities. The ratio is highest in the richest, most industrial countries: more than 90 percent in the United Kingdom and Belgium, almost 90 percent in The Netherlands, and more than 80 percent in Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Only poor, rural Portugal and Albania are less than half urban.

In recent decades cities in less developed countries have grown enormously. Most of the new urbanites live in impoverished slums.

Suburbs were originally bedroom communities that serviced a central city. More recently "Edge Cities" have developed their own independent base, with offices and malls. Transportation is the critical factor in the development of suburbs. Railroad suburbs emerged by the 1860s (and are still important near New York, London, and Tokyo). The automobile played a decisive role in the movement to the suburbs, especially after 1945. Migration flows to suburbia include middle class residents leaving the center city, and migrants from other parts of the country, including people from towns or farms who have never lived in a city.

Suburbs are worldwide. In western Europe, some towns over 500 years old have become suburbs of London joining recently built "New Towns" outside London. Paris has become a commuter city, with subways carrying 5 million passengers a day The largest suburb is Yokohama, near Tokyo, with a population of 3.3 million

The "Edge City" is new phenomenon in the American suburbs; it designates the combination of good highway access, nearby residential suburbs, office buildings, and shopping malls. Increasingly, suburbanites commute to edge cities and other suburbs; many rarely enter the city