The Effects and Factors of Migration

Updated March 23, 2017

Migration of people among nations is an ongoing phenomenon, one that carries global economic, social and cultural concerns. Since 1990, more than 35 million people have migrated from their home countries to other nations, usually leading industrial powers such as the United States and countries in western Europe. People migrate for a variety of what social scientists call push and pull factors. Push factors refer to negative aspects of the home countries migrants leave, while pull factors are positive aspects of the receiving nations that attract new immigrants. Factors affecting migration include economic opportunity and global conflict.


Economic globalisation has accelerated the movement of goods and services across borders. Many nations have embraced economic globalisation by reducing or eliminating tariffs and lowering other trade barriers, but the Levin Institute at the State University of New York noted that nations have been less enthusiastic about liberalising their immigration policies. Restrictive measures in the West aimed at curtailing immigration have slowed recent migration.

Economic Hardship

Poverty is one of the largest factors affecting migration. Many people who migrate to other countries do so to better themselves and their families financially. The Levin Institute reported that in many poor countries, a majority of residents express a desire to migrate to more prosperous countries. In Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone, a majority of respondents to a survey indicated a desire to emigrate. More than 80 per cent of the people around the world who emigrated since 1990 relocated to industrialised nations, according to the institute.

Political and Social Strife

While the lack of economic opportunities at home and the potential for greater opportunities abroad are key drivers of global migration, other people migrate to escape social strife or political persecution. Examples include the millions who fled the Soviet Union and other countries of the eastern bloc during the Cold War era, as well as the millions who have left Cuba and Haiti for the United States over the last half-century.

Armed Conflict

Wars, insurrections and other forms of armed conflict also influence migration. Examples include the Vietnamese refugees who fled southeast Asia after the Vietnam War and the Bosnians who left the Balkans during the 1990s as war and widespread massacres gripped the former Yugoslavia. The pro-immigration group One America reports a dramatic rise in global armed conflict within individual nations since the end of the Cold War, creating millions of new refugees and asylum seekers. The organisation added that the involvement of industrialised nations in the global weapons trade contributes to the problem by prolonging civil wars.

Economic Effects

Some of the most significant effects of migration occur in the economic arena. The Levin Institute reported that while migration may carry a mix of positive and negative effects in the short term, the long-term effects are generally positive. In the short term, migration may carry costs for receiving nations as the new arrivals may be more likely to use publicly funded services. The institute also reported that some studies suggest immigrant populations drive down wages for all workers. However, immigrant populations represent a source of inexpensive labour for domestic corporations, meaning lower production costs and lower prices for consumers. In addition, many migrant workers take low-paying jobs that many native-born workers do not want, suggesting that migration has little effect on the economic well-being of native populations.

Other Effects

Migration has social and cultural effects, as well. Migrants enhance the ethnic and cultural diversity of the countries to which they emigrate. However, the Levin Institute reported that migration may fuel a backlash in the form of anti-immigrant political parties that equate immigration with such problems as crime, terrorism and unemployment. The institute also noted that migration raises serious questions of national identity, especially in nations without a long tradition of immigration.

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About the Author

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.