Push Factors of Migration

Where are you right now? Do you like where it is? Is there something you'd change about it or something you don't like? Would you rather be somewhere else? Why? Is it because you don't want to be where you are right now, or is something pulling you there? Perhaps it's a bit too hot in the room you're sitting in, or maybe some people close to you are making a lot of noise while trying to read this. Perhaps it's a sunny summer day, and you want to go to the park, or a new movie that you've been waiting to see just came out. These things are examples of push and pull factors. Being hot in the room and loud people are push factors because they make you want to leave where you are. A nice summer day and going to see a movie are pull factors: something somewhere else urging you to go. In this explanation, we will dive deeper into push factors on a global scale.

Push Factors of Migration Push Factors of Migration

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Table of contents

    Push Factors of Migration: Definition

    Push factors in migration include but are not limited to limited job opportunities, political oppression, conflict, natural disasters, and corruption. Push factors of migration are economic, political, cultural, or a combination.

    Push Factors of Migration: People, circumstances, or events that drive people to leave a place.

    In 2020 there were 281 million migrants in the world, or 3.81% of people.1

    There are some obvious reasons people are pushed to leave a place or country. Conflict, famine, drought, and other natural disasters are a few of the most prominent. They trigger large numbers of people to leave a place at once, often causing significant issues with handling their arrival elsewhere.

    This can cause considerable problems in countries that take a bulk of the migrants because their infrastructure and social services might not be prepared for such a massive influx of people within a short time, such as the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe in the middle of the last decade and the Ukrainian crisis in 2022. Fewer people back home can also lead to a downward spiral of demographic and economic stagnation as the country, city, or region adapts to a smaller population.

    Push Factors in Migration Syrian Refugees in the Middle East, 2015 StudySmarterFig. 1 - Syrian Refugees in the Middle East, 2015.

    An emigrant leaving their place of origin may also be driven out by a lack of a good job, high unemployment, and lack of economic opportunities that don't allow for socio-economic advancement.

    A survey of regional migrants in sub-Saharan Africa by Stanford University's Immigration Lab found that a large majority of migrants were moving to look for better economic opportunities, as opposed to being forced out by a crisis or other conflict.3

    This can be due to several factors:

    • A lack of good work opportunities.

    • Low salaries even for skilled labor.

    • An industry that one excels in is not very developed, therefore, career advancement will be limited.

    • The cost of living relative to the salary they make is not very good; therefore, building wealth and saving money is difficult.

    An average person from sub-Saharan Africa working in an unskilled job in Europe can earn around three times as much as they would back in Africa.3 This can allow migrants to work in these countries and send remittances back to their families and communities in their home countries to pay for living expenses and day-to-day needs where work opportunities are not as plentiful of lucrative.

    Corruption is worth mentioning as well. Perhaps entrepreneurs are unable to get reliable capital loaned to them to start businesses because of a corrupt banking system, or there is inadequate enforcement by governmental institutions such as courts to uphold the terms of a contract, loan, or agreement. Thus, doing business in the country is difficult, pushing more people to emigrate to more stable, business-friendly countries.

    Countries with many push factors often experience a "brain drain" in which people with advanced educations and skills emigrate to sell their labor in places that have better standards of living and working. This often stunts the development and advancement of their origin country.

    Voluntary vs. Forced Migration

    There are two broad types of migration, voluntary and forced migration.

    Voluntary Migration: People choose to move.

    Forced Migration: People are pushed out.

    People leave a place of their own volition for various reasons. Perhaps they are dissatisfied with economic opportunities, maybe there aren't many jobs, or they cannot fulfill career ambitions by staying. They choose to leave because they have found work elsewhere or hope they will find something better in a new place.

    A forced migration (involuntary migration) push factor might be a natural disaster such as a hurricane devastating communities. Migrants become internally displaced persons in search of basic comforts and human needs, such as safety and shelter.

    Forced migration also involves people who have been coerced, deceived, or taken somewhere against their will, as in many cases of human trafficking.

    Push Factors in Migration Migrants at a Railway Station in Budapest, 2015 StudySmarterFig. 2 - Migrants at a railway station in Budapest, 2015.

    Forced migration can be anything that would lead someone to seek refugee status, asylum, or be labeled as a displaced person, such as famine, conflict, or political oppression. Fleeing a place from threats to one's safety or lack of basic needs is not considered voluntary.

    Forced migration often causes social or humanitarian issues in the place people end up in due to the destination country not being prepared or due to the person fleeing the place they came from out of desperation and without many assets to fall back on, often a combination of both.

    Push Factors vs. Pull Factors

    Push factors and pull factors are intertwined. For example, limited economic opportunity is a factor that pushes people out of place must be limited in comparison to places or regions with more economic opportunity to pull people towards them.

    Any migrant situation typically involves both push factors and pull factors.

    If someone wants to leave where they are to pursue better economic opportunities, the push factor is the job market where they are, and the pull factor is the one they are going to. A push factor could be the job market being pretty dismal and unemployment being high. A pull factor would be the better job market in the country they have in mind.

    If someone is fleeing a conflict, the push factor would be the conflict in the place they are, while the pull factor is the stability in the place they are heading.

    Push Factor Examples in Geography

    In the world today, we can see millions of people dealing with push factors that force them to migrate.

    A forced push factor example is the war in Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians emigrated at the start of the war in February of 2022. Around the same number of people moved within the country, becoming Internally Displaced People, as left Ukraine. Some other countries in Europe experienced influxes of millions. Whether these are permanent migrants is yet to be seen. As of September 2022, it was believed that many have returned.5

    Although we may hear about crises cause by forced push factors in the news a lot, voluntarily push factors are experienced by many more people worldwide.

    A voluntary push factor is a doctor in Croatia who spends years studying to become a doctor only to receive a salary that is a fraction of that a waiter or bartender makes in a touristy part of the country. This is partly due to the country's inflated tourist market inflating salaries in those industries. The doctor may have good access to education in Croatia. Still, the economic incentive to spend so long studying to become a doctor is not present, considering they could make much more working jobs that do not require so much schooling. Thus, ow relative salary may push doctors in Croatia to migrate to a country where their qualifications would earn a much higher salary.

    Social Push Factors of Migration

    Social push factors can be much harder for observers to understand. They can be cultural or family-oriented. They may not be directly economically related and are difficult to find solutions for.

    They include religious oppression as well as having limited economic opportunities because you were born in a low social caste in a system that limits social mobility, such as in India or Pakistan. This may mean that if you are born poor, you will likely remain so your whole life: a motivating push factor to leave a place for those who are able to.

    These, along with other forms of discrimination and oppression, can be social factors that make people want to leave a place.

    Push Factors in Migration Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean, 2016. StudySmarterFig. 3 - Migrants crossing the Mediterranean, 2016.

    For many, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to leave the country they come from, as many of the most desperate people or those who are the lowest on the socio-economic ladder do not have any means to leave the place they are. Thus this can create a social issue that other places will inherit when people are forced to move.

    See our explanation of Ravenstein's Laws of Migration for more depth in this issue.

    Often still, many, voluntarily or by force and without the means, will take great risks to get to a place with better opportunities. Some examples of this are the many migrants who attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean or Caribbean on makeshift boats, hoping to make it to Europe or the US to seek asylum.

    Push Factors in Migration - Key takeaways

    • Push factors drive people to leave a place either voluntarily or by force.
    • Voluntary migration: the circumstance of people choosing to leave a place in search of better circumstances.
    • Forced migration: the circumstance of people leaving due to unsafe conditions or not having basic needs met due to conflict, natural disasters, or other factors.
    • Push factors include as conflict, unemployment, natural disasters, or oppression.
    • There were 281 million migrants in the world in 2020.


    1. IOM UN Migration. “World Migration Report 2022.” https://worldmigrationreport.iom.int/wmr-2022-interactive/. 2022.
    2. Fig. 1 - Syrian Refugees in the Middle East, 2015.(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Syrian_refugees_in_the_Middle_East_map_en.svg) by Furfur (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Furfur) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    3. The Economist. “Many more Africans are Migrating Within Africa Then to Europe.” https://www.economist.com/briefing/2021/10/30/many-more-africans-are-migrating-within-africa-than-to-europe. 30, OCT, 2021.
    4. Fig. 2 - (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Migrants_at_Eastern_Railway_Station_-_Keleti,_2015.09.04_(4).jpg) by Elekes Andor (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Elekes_Andor) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    5. OCHA. “Ukraine Situation Report.” https://reports.unocha.org/en/country/ukraine/ 21, Sept, 2022.
    6. Fig. 3 - (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Refugees_on_a_boat_crossing_the_Mediterranean_sea,_heading_from_Turkish_coast_to_the_northeastern_Greek_island_of_Lesbos,_29_January_2016.jpg) by Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mstyslav_Chernov) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Push Factors of Migration

    What are the push factors of migration?

    Push factors are people, events, or circumstances that drive people to leave a place.

    What are push factors examples?

    Leaving a country due to conflict, Leaving a place due to little economic opportunity, and leaving somewhere because of oppression.

    What is the difference between push and pull in geography?

    Push factors are what cause or motivate a person to leave a place, while pull factors are what cause them to go to a place.

    What types of push factors are usually responsible for voluntary migration?

    Economic opportunities, seeking jobs, or a better quality of life.

    How do push and pull factors affect migration?

    They can determine flows of migration, where people will leave, and where they will end up, as well as the number of people leaving or coming to a place at a certain time.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following would be a push factor?

    How many migrants were there in 2020?

    What are some locations that have had a large number of push factors in the last few decades?


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