How does poverty affect migration choice?: a review of literature

How does poverty affect migration choice?: a review of literature

Effects of poverty on choosing migration as a livelihood strategy

This paper takes a sustainable livelihoods approach to understanding the relationship between migration and poverty, and it explores the effects of poverty on people’s decision and ability to migrate.

A livelihood approach to poverty and migration emphasises that: whilst migration does occur in response to crisis for some, it is also a central livelihood strategy for many people in the face of physical, economic, social and political adversity; and the impact of poverty and vulnerability on migration and implications of migration for well-being are highly context specific.

The paper argues that poverty and vulnerability have two conflicting effects on migration: by providing incentives to migrate, either as a strategy for livelihood diversification or out of destitution; but also by reducing the ability to migrate because the transfer costs involved, in terms of financial, human, physical and social capital, are too high.

The paper is divided into three sections. The first section examines the literature on migration choice and the determinants of migration that have emerged predominantly from the field of economics, and the New Economics of Migration. Section two reviews the poverty-migration linkages from the perspective of the sustainable livelihoods literature. Third, the authors analyse linkages between the two strands of literature and present some ideas for future research.

The paper finds some general patterns between poverty and vulnerability, including:

  • the option of migrating is not available to all poor people, especially the chronically and severely poor. The ability to migrate is affected by the degree of social inclusion or exclusion, reflected in access to and control over resources
  • many non-moving individuals and households from a sending area are likely to be, or become, chronically poor. They are unable to choose migration as a strategy due to financial and economic costs, as well as having limited access to networks and disadvantage in terms of skills, knowledge and physical mobility
  • however, it is the poorest groups of people who are typically disproportionately represented in circumstance of distress migration - migration as a response to severe livelihood constraints