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Drawing on global migration data covering the 1990-2010 period, this paper investigates the relation between processes of development and migration patterns. We do so by conducting bivariate and multivariate analyses which estimate how several economic, technological, political, demographic, and cultural dimensions of social transformation shape patterns of emigration and immigration in complex yet systematic ways, and generate a series of hypothesizes for future empirical analysis. The findings corroborate the idea that there is an inverted U-shaped relation between processes of development and emigration. This challenges push-pull models and confirms ‘transition theories,’ which hypothesize that development and social transformation initially tend to boost emigration. While the incidence of warfare increases emigration, there is no significant effect of the level of political freedom on emigration levels, while the level of authoritarianism affect immigration levels positively. The absence of an effect of the ‘youth bulge’ (estimated by the share of 15-35 year olds) on emigration and its positive effect on immigration defy push-pull models and Malthusian explanations of migration, and show that demographic factors only play an indirect role in migration processes. The analyses also yield a robustly negative effect of urbanization levels and urban growth on emigration, suggesting that rural-to-urban migration can be a substitute for international migration in fast growing urban economies. Overall, the findings suggest that different social mechanisms are at play in explaining emigration and immigration, and thus, these need to be analysed simultaneously, yet separately. In general, the paper highlights the usefulness of adopting a broader social transformation perspective when analysing the relations between human development and migration.



Working paper

Publication Date





1 - 40


Social transformation, development, international migration, migration theory