Topic 8:


Introduction | Goals | Notes on Readings | Outline Notes | Links to Other Resources


Migration as an enduring theme of human history: migrations in ancient times, the historical past, and the present. Migration at a variety of scales: local, regional, and international. Types of migrations. Patterns of migration: step migration, chain migration, channeled migration. Role of distance decay and information flow in migration patterns. Barriers to migration; inducements to migration. How is the decision to migrate made? Push and pull factors, voluntary and involuntary migration. Rules of migration: who, what, when, and why.


This is a self study guide to the topic of migration.

Please read the material in Knox and Marston related to migration, pp 127-137, carefully and read through these notes to learn more about the subject. Each main idea is marked by this icon:

Follow the activities suggested in italics and noted by the pencil symbol:

Be able to do this...

The goals are for you to

  • define migration
  • explain the effects migrations have had on both geography and history
  • understand that migration occurs at different scales
  • explain why people change their residential location
  • analyze migrations in terms of classifications (forced, voluntary, imposed) and types
  • explain the decision to migrate in terms of push and pull factors
  • describe patterns of migration using the concepts of distance decay, intervening opportunity, place utility, step migration, chain migration, channelized migration, and migration fields
  • describe the geography of dislocation: refugee patterns and processes in the world today

Notes on Readings
Pages 108 to 199 in Chapter 3 assigned focuses on population movement in a variety of ways. Be sure you understand the differences between voluntary and forced migration, and the factors (push-pull) that underlay mobility. Note especially the plight of internally displaced persons from places like Palestine, Darfur, Kurdistan, the Balkans, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. Also, note mobility patterns in the US caused by suburbanization.

Outline Notes

Migration: the permanent relocation of residential place.

Points to Remember about Migration

Migration is one of the enduring themes of human history.

Examples of migrations through time include

  • the movement of the first human groups from their point of origin (East Africa?) to their present distribution around the entire globe;
  • the movement of peoples within early civilizations for trade, seeking raw materials, making war;
  • the momentous movement of "barbarians" like the Huns, Goths, Visigoths, and Vandals out of Central Asia and into the Roman Empire bringing about its fall;
  • the movement of the Islamic Moors across North Africa from Arabia and northward into Europe via Spain, into Central Asia via Turkey and into the Balkans;
  • the Vikings migrating from modern day Denmark and Norway to Iceland, and from Norway and Sweden into Russia

Recent migrations include

  • the movement on an unprecedented scale of Europeans to North and South America;
  • British to Africa, Australia, and New Zealand;
  • Africans to North and South America;
  • Indians (from what is today India/Pakistan/Bangladesh) to East Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Fiji--all parts of the British Empire;
  • Chinese throughout Southeast Asia;
  • Jews from Europe to North America and Israel;
  • Americans and Canadians westward across the North American continent;
  • Russians eastward across the Asian continent;
  • Mexicans northward to the US;
  • Vietnamese, Central Americans, Cubans, Haitians to the US.

Be sure you can trace the movements described above on maps.

Migration has had a significant effect on world geography.

  • It has contributed to the evolution and development of separate cultures.
  • It has contributed to the diffusion of cultures by interchange and communication.
  • It has contributed to the complex mix of people and cultures found in different regions of the world today.

Migration occurs at different scales.

Intercontinental Movements: from continent to continent

Which of the migrations listed above are intercontinental?

Intracontinental and Interregional Migrations: between countries and within countries

Motivated by
  • better economic conditions
  • changes in life cycles e.g., moving at retirement to a warmer climate, getting married, having children)
  • flight from disastrous environmental or political conditions, e.g., refugees, Hong Kong Chinese moving to avoid China's take over

Which of the migrations listed above are intracontinental or interregional?

Rural to Urban Migration: from the countryside (rural areas) to cities (urban areas).

Began on a large scale with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century in the advanced economies of Europe and the United States when job opportunities opened up in factories in urban areas. This process is now taking place in the developing economies of the world in South America, Africa, and Asia where industrialization has been occurring. The case in China of rural to urban migration is especially distinct.

Local Residential Shifts: suburbanization, neighborhood relocations.

This kind of movement is significant in Western nations with free housing markets. One sixth of the US population changes residence each year. Why? Among the reasons for residential shifts are changes in life cycle, income level (either more or less money available to spend on housing), job location, perceived safety of neighborhood, better school district, convenient location etc. These shifts produce distinct patterns of urban social geography.

Migrations can be classified as forced, voluntary, or imposed on migrants by circumstances.

The text gives a number of examples of forced and voluntary migrations. An imposed migration is one that is not entirely forced but which conditions make highly advisable.

Migrations can be classified into 5 types. Each type can then be classified as either conservative or innovative.

  • An innovative move is one in which the migrant undertakes a new way of life.
  • A conservative move preserves an accustomed way of life in new surroundings.

1. Primitive Migration: in response to environmental conditions; usually undertaken by people at low levels of development. Conservative example? Innovative example?

2. Forced Migration: compulsory transfer of a group of people, usually by a government. Conservative example? Innovative example? See this website for contemporary examples of forced migration.

3. Impelled Migration: similar to Forced Migration but it differs in that migrants retain some ability to decide whether to move or not. Conservative example? Innovative example?

4. Free Migration: individual movements for economic betterment. Conservative example? Innovative example?

5. Mass Migration: large numbers, entire communities, moving en masse without being fully informed on an individual basis of what to expect. Conservative example? Innovative example?

Classify these migrations by TYPE and decide whether the move was innovative or conservative.

  • westward migration of pioneer farmers
  • modern Americans moving to Alaska
  • Mormon migration to Utah
  • Middle East nomads moving to urban areas in the Persian Gulf
  • African slave trade
  • flight of ancient Britons at the arrival of the Saxon invaders
  • Trail of Tears: relocation of the Five Civilized Tribes to Oklahoma
  • subsistence slash burn farmers in the Amazon (read this newspaper article)
  • resettling of Germans, post WWII, because of border shifts in Poland


The decision to migrate is complex but can usually be conceptualized as the result of two factors: push factors and pull factors.

Push Factors: negative home conditions that impel the decision to migrate, e.g., loss of job, lack of professional opportunities, overcrowding, famine,war, pestilence

Pull Factors: positive attributes perceived to exist at the new location, e.g., jobs, better climate, low taxes, more room, professional opportunities

Both factors are affected by place utility, an individual's existing degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a place (see page 25 in your text). The decision to migrate is based on the person's evaluation: is it better to stay or to go? Two other related concepts are distance decay and intervening opportunity. Movers seek to minimize the friction of distance. Migrants tend to chose the closer location rather than the farther if both are equal in other ways. Information about distant areas is less complete and satisfying than awareness of near locations.

The web site Push and Pull Factors of International Migration contains excellent evidence to support these ideas. Take 10 minutes to explore the information here.

Spatially there are a number of patterns of migration.

Step migration: a series of small, less extreme locational changes are steps. For example, if a person moves from a farm to a small town, then to a larger town and finally a city, it is an example of step migration.

Chain migration is the idea that there exists an established linkage or chain from the point of origin for migrants to their destination. The process of migration is assisted by migrants who already live in the destination. They help their friends and relatives to make the migration by providing them information, money, and place to stay, perhaps a job, and emotional support. People immigrate to locations where they find connections and a measure of familiarity.

Chain migration establishes migration fields, or areas that dominate a locale's in- and out-migration patterns. For example, in Chicago, many Mexican migrants are from the state of Jalisco in Mexico. Jalisco is part of Chicago's migration field.

Observations of migration can be summarized into Laws of Migration (Ravenstein)

Here is a summary of the laws in simple language.

  • Most migrants only go a short distance.
  • Longer distance migration favors big-city destinations. Large cities are migrant magnets.
  • Most migration proceeds step by step.
  • Most migration is rural to urban.
  • Each migration flow produces a counterflow.
  • Most migrants are adults; families are less likely to make international moves.
  • Most international migrants are young males.

There are a number of barriers to migration

Migration is limited by a knowledge of opportunities in other places, i.e., information.

Migration is limited by costs, both financial and emotional. It is difficult to leave one's home to try a completely new way of life.

Migration is limited by political restrictions, e.g., immigration policies

Migration is limited by personal characteristics, e.g., culture, age, gender, education, and economic status. Well-educated males, between the ages of 18-34 who are affluent are MOST mobile; poorly educated females who are old and poor are the LEAST mobile.

The global refugee problem is increasing at a faster rate than world population; it is a massive, global crisis.

Africa, Europe, Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia have the largest problems caused by conflicts and environmental crises. Visit The United Nations Refugee Center for information about current efforts the world around to improve conditions for these people, some of whom are permanently displaced. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent (Muslim branch of the Red Cross) offers information and assistance to refugees as well. The web site Migration Web contains excellent information and links to web sites related to current issues in migration, particularly trafficing in migrants and prostitution and migrant issues.

Links to Other Resources

The United Nations Refugee Center

Migration News

Push and Pull Factors of International Migration 


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