Drivers of migration in household surveys




Chappell, L.


Drivers of migration in household surveys




Government Office for Science UK


Surveys asking about why migration has taken place can give us a sense of the relative importance of environmental factors in driving migration. This short report examines a range of previous surveys to try to assess the existing evidence on this issue. It suggests that:
• Environmental factors are relatively unimportant in explaining migration patterns. In surveys that actually ask about environmental factors, no more than 2.5% of migrants gave them as the main reason for their movement. Moreover, in some countries the number of migrants citing environmental reasons for their movement was not statistically different from zero.
• It is economic and social factors that predominantly explain why people move. Specifically, where the migration is international, economic motivations tend to predominate, and where it is internal, social reasons seem particularly important. Together, economic and social factors tend to explain 90%+ of internal and international migration, dominating other drivers such as the environmental, the political and the demographic.
• Some of this result may be explained by the way in which these different factors influence migration. Specifically, demographic, political and environmental changes may primarily come to the attention of households and individuals when they affect their economic and social lives. So, for example, when someone says they moved ‘to access better public services’, it may be that the public services that were available to them previously were of a poor quality because the area was so densely populated and demand was so high. Or migrants may say that they moved for economic reasons, but in fact the reason that their business suffered was because their customer base was shrinking as a result of people leaving the area owing to a lack of water.
• However, other literature does back up the conclusions drawn from surveys that people move predominantly for social and economic reasons. Thus, while survey data may overstate their importance, economic and social drivers do appear to be more important than other factors, including environmental, in explaining migration.


Chappell, L. (2011). Drivers of migration in household surveys. London : Government Office for Science UK.