Environment, migration and the demographic deficit




Harper, S.


Environment, migration and the demographic deficit




Government Office for Science UK


The paper considers whether migration is a valid policy approach in the context of a demographic deficit and the impact of environmental change on this relationship. The question is addressed in three stages. There is now considerable evidence that migration is a valid policy approach for addressing the challenge of an ageing population. Encouraging economically driven in-migration, particularly of skilled migrants, increases fertility, population size and the working age population, at least in the short term. In addition, it appears to have a positive effect on innovation and growth. Our understanding of the relationship between environmental change and age structural change in the context of migration is more limited. The paper argues that the impact of global ageing – or age structural changes in population composition – on environmentally driven migration will be to increase the demand for skilled migration. Thus those in environmentally challenged zones with skills may find it easier to relocate under conditions of age structural change, than under circumstances without perceived demographic deficits in working age populations. The reciprocal aspect to this is whether environmental change will have an impact on population composition. The paper argues that environmentally driven migration will operate through changing the scale, flow and destination of global skilled migration and thus increase the impact on the population composition of both the host and the source countries. In terms of scale, environmentally driven skilled migrants will join with economic migrants. In terms of flow and destination, environmental change may alter the current assumption that Asia, and the more economically advanced parts of Latin America and Africa, will prove in the future to be more attractive destinations for skilled migrants, who will increasingly be able to select where they place their skills, to the detriment of Europe. However, these scenarios overlook the increasingly different degrees of challenging environments between regions. It is already accepted that the challenges which climate change may bring will impact upon sustainable economic development in a number of regions, specifically those in the south. In some regions this may restrain economic growth and thus the economic magnets for attracting skilled migrants. Furthermore, skilled migrants may select less challenging environments within which to relocate. Thus Asian cities in particular may begin to lose out to European cities, which are situated in less environmentally challenging zones, and so impact upon migration flows and destinations. This will then further impact upon the population composition of the receiving countries. Finally, the migration of skilled workers, whether economically or environmentally driven or both, will under the coexistence of environmental change with global ageing increasingly leave behind vulnerable older people in environmentally challenged zones.


Harper, S. (2011). Environment, migration and the demographic deficit. London : Government Office for Science UK.