Causes of Migration

Why do people move? We have been doing it for thousands of years, so long that we are not entirely sure how humans got to all corners of the planet, as the earliest migrations took place long before humans recorded history. However, some things are universal, and we can say that thousands of years ago, the causes of migration for humans were not all that different than they are today. Sure, not many people probably dreamed of giving their kid the opportunity to attend the best college and become a top trial lawyer, but at a broader level, the basics of searching for a higher quality of life, more resources, and peace have motivated humans to migrate for thousands of years. Let's take a look at the causes of migration, including the environmental, political, social, and economic factors that might encourage someone to move.

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Is the following a push factor or a pull factor? 


John moves to the mountains because he loves the outdoors and skiing.

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What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Lucas moves to a large city to find work using his skillsets. 

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What are the main causes of migration?

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Is the following a push factor or a pull factor? 


Emily leaves her town after harassment because of her religion. 

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What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Beth moves to another country to be closer to her family. 

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Is the following situation voluntary or forced migration?


Brooke moves to the city to find better work opportunities. 

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Is the following situation voluntary or forced migration?


Ann left her country due to a violent conflict. 

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What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Don moves from his home because a hurricane partially destroyed his town. 

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What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Alex moves to another country to have the right to vote in a free and fair election.

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What is the difference between push and pull factors?

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Which of the following would be an environmental cause of migration?

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Is the following a push factor or a pull factor? 


John moves to the mountains because he loves the outdoors and skiing.

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Lucas moves to a large city to find work using his skillsets. 

Show Answer
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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What are the main causes of migration?

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Is the following a push factor or a pull factor? 


Emily leaves her town after harassment because of her religion. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Beth moves to another country to be closer to her family. 

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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Is the following situation voluntary or forced migration?


Brooke moves to the city to find better work opportunities. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Is the following situation voluntary or forced migration?


Ann left her country due to a violent conflict. 

Show Answer
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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Don moves from his home because a hurricane partially destroyed his town. 

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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?


Alex moves to another country to have the right to vote in a free and fair election.

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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What is the difference between push and pull factors?

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Which of the following would be an environmental cause of migration?

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Table of contents

    What are the Causes of Migration?

    The leading causes of migration are environmental, political, social, or economic. These factors may overlap; often, a reason for migration is a combination of factors. Some people argue that all migration is ultimately economically motivated, whether it's to improve one's status, escape poverty, or flee from a disaster. This is often true, but there are other aspects to migration as well. According to the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2020, 281 Million people, or 3.6 percent of all people in the world, were migrants.1 Many of these migrants embark on dangerous and sometimes fatal journeys to escape poverty or oppression in hopes of a better life.

    The causes of migration generally are categorized as push and pull factors. Push factors cause a person to leave a place, whereas pull factors draw someone to a particular area. Push and pull factors usually have some relation to one another and can be thought of as two sides of the same coin. For example, if someone is leaving an area due to conflict (push factor), they are presumably going to a peaceful area (pull factor).

    Push Factor: Someone leaves a place due to a famine. There is not enough food available, therefore, the famine pushes them out of that location.

    Pull Factor: Someone is moving to a new country for better access to education. The education they seek is in that particular place, therefore it pulls them to that place.

    Furthermore, migration can be voluntary or forced. Voluntary migration involves someone choosing to leave in order to seek better opportunities. Forced migration involves someone migrating because of safety concerns—and it may be against their will

    Some examples of voluntary and forced migration are as follows.

    Leaving a place in search of better job opportunities is voluntary migration because someone chooses to search for a better economic opportunity instead of settling for what they may have. Their safety is not at stake, but their quality of life and well-being might be improved by searching for better economic opportunities elsewhere.

    An example of forced migration would be someone leaving an area due to extreme drought. The carrying capacity of the place has dwindled, and they must seek more resources elsewhere or face fatal consequences.

    We can see that the causes of migration can be political, economic, social, environmental, and often a combination of these. The cause can then be classified as a push or pull factor, voluntary or forced.

    Check out our explanations on Push Factors of Migration and Pull Factors of Migration for more information.

    Environmental Reasons for Migration

    Environmental factors that lead an area to be inhospitable or undesirable include natural disasters, famine, drought, or anything caused by nature that would drive someone to leave a place or go to another one. Environmental factors such as natural beauty, a safe place, or a favorable climate pull people to a particular environment.

    Causes of Migration Dried Ground Due to Drought StudySmarterFig. 1 - Dried ground due to drought

    Environmental Migration Examples

    Climate change has been exacerbating environmental factors as causes of migration as strong droughts or floods become commonplace. Many people move from susceptible areas to floods, and droughts, often monsoons climate that becomes increasingly extreme at either end. The horn of Africa has been experiencing its worst drought in 40 years over the last five years, driving many to flee.2

    Some natural disasters displace people for a short time, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It displaced over a million people for some time, with more than half a million of those people being displaced for over a month. Most migrants here were temporarily displaced, while others moved away from the area permanently, perhaps their house was destroyed, or they decided to pursue a life in an area less at risk of natural disaster.3

    Causes of Migration Flooding from Hurricane Katrina StudySmarterFig. 2 - Flooding from Hurricane Katrina.

    Political Causes of Migration

    Political causes of migration can include conflict, war, oppression, lack of liberty, and loss of human rights. Pull factors, on the other hand, could be things such as more human rights, social services provided by the government, a desire for liberty and equality, and the presence of strong institutions that protect rights and do not tolerate corruption.

    Over the last several years in Myanmar, the Rohingya minority has been oppressed and suffered a lack of liberty and genocide. As of October 2022, there are more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh near the border with Myanmar.4

    Causes of Migration Rohingya Muslim Refugees crossing into Bangladesh StudySmarterFig. 3- Rohingya Refugees crossing into Bangladesh.

    Social Causes of Migration

    Social causes can be easily mixed with political causes, and they often share many similarities, but social causes have to do more with the culture or people of a place rather than the government. However, the government can often be a reflection of the culture and people of a place. Social push factors may include discrimination or oppression, especially when political protection is legally guaranteed but not practiced socially or culturally.

    For example, if someone is experiencing religious oppression, they may choose to move to a place where their religion is more frequently practiced or accepted. Social causes can also be much more interpersonal, such as suffering threats or abuse from someone or moving to an area where one has more family ties.

    Economic Causes of Migration

    Economic causes of migration are a big reason for voluntary migration. Economic factors can be anything that would improve someone's economic status, such as leaving an area because of high unemployment or relocating to a country or area that has opportunities in a certain industry. Broader reasons for migrating that improve socioeconomic status might be access to better education, personal connections, or leaving the corrupt business culture of an area.

    In this chart, we take a look at the life of Ollie, our fictional character, who lives in Country A. Let's explore the many causes of migration for Ollie either to another area of Country A or internationally to Country B, a desirable all-around country to move to, or Country C, a wealthy but corrupt country.

    Push FactorsPull Factors
    Ollie's Eventful LifeVoluntaryForcedVoluntary Forced
    Environmental Massive and fast-paced development and urbanization have turned Ollie's beautiful little farming village into a polluted, noisy town. Ollie is a subsistence farmer, and a drought in the countryside of Country A has ruined Ollie's crops. As a result, Ollie must leave in order to find food elsewhere, such as in a city of Country A or a different country altogether. Ollie likes the sea and fishing and would like to live closer to it, so the natural appeal of this location pulls Ollie to it.The shoreline in Country B is the only place Ollie can safely migrate to that has enough food in terms of fish to support Ollie as well as others.
    Political Ollie has a business selling access food he grows at the market. Corruption makes running a business in Country A difficult and unstable. Ollie needs to pay much of the profits to gangs and the police. It is possible to do business, but it comes with a lot of difficulties.War endangers the safety of Ollie, causing Ollie to leave out of fear for safety. Country B has strong institutions that protect and enforce personal liberty much more than Country A, such as free and fair elections.Country A has demanded that Ollie come back to the country in order to complete military service.
    EconomicThere are very high taxes in Country A. Ollie would like to find a better deal.Ollie's wages are not keeping up with the cost of living, and Ollie can no longer afford even the most basic needs, such as food and shelter.In Country B, there are ample work opportunities in an industry Ollie is skilled in, such as farming. A human trafficker has coerced Ollie into becoming a migrant worker in Country C. Ollie was unaware of what the work entailed when signing up due to Ollie's lack of education and illiteracy, which made Ollie unable to understand the contracts.
    SocialOllie is an ethnic minority in Country A. Ollie is often subjected to harassment and often treated unfairly by a few particular neighbors and people in the community. It makes Ollie feel unwelcome and isolated.Ollie's neighbors make threats due to Ollie's ethnic background, and this makes Ollie feel physically unsafe. There is a much larger community of Ollie's ethnic group and relatives in Country B, these people share more of Ollie's culture and heritage. Ollie was coerced and threatened into going to Country C, where traffickers may exploit Ollie as a sex worker.

    Causes of Migration - Key takeaways

    • Migration can be voluntary or forced.
    • Migration can be for economic, environmental, social, or political reasons, but often these overlap, and the full reason is a combination of many factors.
    • Push and Pull factors are like two sides of the same coin. The reason for leaving a place is often relative to what is available elsewhere and vice versa.
    • Migration is often dangerous and done out of desperation. However, many migrants choose to go elsewhere voluntarily for a better life.

    References

    1. International Organisation for Migration IOM. “World Migration Report 2022.” https://worldmigrationreport.iom.int/wmr-2022-interactive/ 2022.
    2. United Nations. “UN News.” https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1116872 25th, April 2022.
    3. Plyer, Allison. “Facts for Features: Katrina Impact.” https://www.datacenterresearch.org/data-resources/katrina/facts-for-impact/#:~:text=The%20storm%20displaced%20more%20than,housed%20at%20least%20114%2C000%20households. 26th, August 2016.
    4. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA. “Rohingya Refugee Crisis.” https://www.unocha.org/rohingya-refugee-crisis October 2022.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Causes of Migration

    What are the four causes of migration?

    Economic, social, environmental, and political.

    What are some examples of environmental migration?

    Leaving an area due to a natural disaster such as flooding or drought. Moving to a place due to the natural beauty. 

    What is an example of economic migration?

    Leaving a place due to high unemployment. Going to a place with greater job and economic opportunities.

    What natural factors affect migration?

    The landscape, crossing deserts or seas, can be perilous for many migrants. Also, not having adequate supplies for the journey, such as food and water, as is often the case with forced migration. 

    How does climate change affect migration?

    Climate change has been making weather more erratic, causing more extreme natural disasters such as floods, droughts, or storms. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?Lucas moves to a large city to find work using his skillsets. 

    What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?Beth moves to another country to be closer to her family. 

    What would be the correct classification for the following cause of migration?Alex moves to another country to have the right to vote in a free and fair election.

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