Development as Push and Pull factor in Migration

Development as Push and Pull factor in Migration

Push & Pull


by Joseph A. Yaro

The quest for a better and humane life has led to mankind dispersing over the surface of the earth in pursuit of different livelihood options. Human history is replete with mass movement of people from places with fewer possibilities for enhancing well being to potential zones of maximum welfare. Africa’s population distribution is the result of relocations for better soils, protection from slave raiders, water supply, grasslands for grazing, possibilities for trade and avoidance of oppression. Similarly, European invasion of the Americas, Australia and New Zealand was a response to the desire to improve their lives in greener pastures and avoiding constraining conditions on their well being.

Migration is the result of the interplay of political, social, economic, legal, historical, cultural, and educational forces at both ends of the migratory axis (Mejia et al. 1979). These forces can be classified as either ‘Push’ or ‘Pull’. The push factors are those life situations that give one reason to be dissatisfied with one’s present locale; while the pull factors are those attributes of distant places that make them appear appealing (Dorigo and Tobler 1983). Both forces must be operating for migration to occur, and in addition, facilitating forces must be present as well, such as the absence of legal or other constraints that impede migration (Kline 2003).

In the past, facilitating conditions were physically related, such as crossing tortuous mountains, crocodile infested rivers, and lion infested forest, hostile territories and the high seas, which demanded some amount of technology. Discoveries of the means of overcoming these barriers constitute the facilitating conditions which enabled individual and mass movement. In today’s world, visa restrictions, social arrangements and economic means tend to dictate the ability of people to move even in the presence of overwhelming push and pull factors.

 The use of intervening opportunity in migration has been neglected in discussions. Inability of potential migrants to relocate to desired places offering maximum welfare leads to the relocation to nearer and more easily reachable/accessible places where pull factors work synergistically with push factors to warrant a movement. Most migrants would use intervening opportunity zones as stepping stones to overcoming the hurdles preventing them from migrating to desired opportunity zones, where they accumulate capital, work out documentation and build experience which the desired location expects of them.

The literature on push and pull forces often ascribes reasons for migration to singular causes or forces such as demographic, ecological, economical, political and social. The combined desires of mankind transcend these categories with one major aim, which is, ‘aspirations towards a better and humane life’ which encapsulates the notion of development. Development is the process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom such as poverty, tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance of repressive states (Sen 1999). Sen argues that what people can achieve is influenced by economic opportunities, political liberties, social powers, and enabling conditions of good health, basic education and the encouragement and cultivation of initiatives.

Migration should therefore be seen as a holistic process reflecting the aspirations of people and places imbued with shortfalls/abundance in criteria for a good life. Population pressure and land fragmentation per se will not make people migrate, rather, the totality of circumstances that transcend land availability through social relations, income from non-farm activities, employment guarantees by the state, level of oppression and the functioning of markets will define the possibilities for making a good/bad life. These determine whether a person moves to a desired location with better possibilities for enhancing personal capabilities or not.

The rest of the paper will explain the spatial inequalities in development and how it influences migration flows; explain the need to move from mere economic forces for migration to non-material forces; and conclude by explaining how initial migration can reinforce subsequent movements through the process of cumulative causation.

Spatial Inequalities in Development and Migration

Development does not occur equally everywhere, but is manifest more in some places than others. The world is composed of rich and poor countries, developed and developing countries, great opportunity zones and less opportunity zones. The process of growth and development in most developing countries during the colonial and post-colonial periods has been characterized by the process of areal differentiation. This process has led to the emergence of core and dependent peripheries (Friedman, 1961). The essential geographic characteristic has been a spatial imbalance in both economic and welfare opportunities within these countries; employment and income opportunities, schools, health facilities, and clean piped water all tend to be concentrated in urban places, especially in the dominant primate cities (Riddell 1980).

All over West Africa, the colonial regimes/administratios/rulers concentrated development activities in the capital cities and ecologically favourable areas producing export crops and minerals. The provision of enabling conditions for making a better life in these areas made them ‘pull regions’ whiles the abandoned peripheries constituted ‘push regions’ because of the debilitating conditions of life compared to the core areas.

The spatial imbalance in development in Ghana has two dimensions; the first is the North-South divide and the rural-urban divide. Generally, the south of Ghana is more developed than the north, and urban areas are more developed than rural areas. This spatial imbalance has generated four main types of internal migration in Ghana, namely rural-rural, rural-urban, urban-urban and urban-rural (Mensah-Bonsu, 2003). During the colonial period the north of the country was thought to be of little use to the colonial Empire apart from the supply of labour for extraction of raw materials in the goldmines and cocoa farms of the south (Chambers 1980, Songsore and Denkabe 1995, Iman 2007, Yaro 2004).

Intentional colonial policies meant to make the northern sector of the country a labour reserve for mines and cocoa farms in the south led to a southward migration stream (forced or willingly), relegating the development of productive forces in the north. In addition, the provision of incentives for appropriate agricultural production was lacking in the north and other areas of the colony. In a nutshell the concern of the colonialists was raw materials for industries in the ‘Golden Triangle’ with its metropole being Accra-Tema, Secondi-Takoradi and Kumasi. The colonial factor is important because it sets the stage for the orientation of the economy in the post-independent era, where adverse terms of trade, poor infrastructure and institutions, poor human resources and a corrupted urban elite operate synergistically to perpetuate the north-south movement in a process of cumulative causation.

The urban bias thesis (Lipton 1977) provides a fair explanation of the polarisation between rural and urban at all levels. Most investments both public and private are made in big cities to the relative neglect of not only rural areas but also small and intermediate towns. This spatially skewed investments pattern results in urban areas being more developed than rural areas in terms of provision of amenities, ensuring law and order, and availability of diverse means of sustenance. The concentration of activity in urban areas (urban bias) is matched by the increasing income disparity between urban and rural areas. The consequence of these disparities is the creation of urban magnetic points and repulsive rural environments. Neglected rural areas are therefore replete with push forces which are the major sources of unfreedom while urban areas experiencing a concentration of investments and development activity are imbued with pull forces of development.

To prove the importance of development as a holistic improvement of human wellbeing in this process rather than mere attraction of urban tarmac roads and street lights, the reversals of migration from these hitherto magnetic poles to new opportunity zones is important. As urban-ward migration, at least in the aggregate, is a reflection of urban-rural differentials discounted by the probability of unemployment, it can be predicted that as unemployment continues to rise, the urban centres will become increasingly less attractive to rural-urban migrants (Todaro 1966: cf Riddell 1980).

This adequately characterises contemporary redirection of migration away from the major urban centres to rural areas with favourable ecological conditions. Since the seventies, most developed countries have experienced a reversal in their urbanization trend resulting from the increasing significance of urban-to-rural migration (Champion 1991). In Côte d'Ivoire, there is even a clear pattern of "counter-urbanization" in the sense that the proportion of the population living in urban areas is falling (Zanou 2001, in Beauchemin et al. 2004). The reasons for these reversals are obvious:. The failure of import substitution industrialisation, the economic crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s and the adoption of structural adjustment measures all combine to reduce the magnetic properties of most urban areas and increase others in smaller towns in ecologically favourable areas.

In a large number of African countries, the fall in real urban incomes has generated a "new urban poor" forced to adjust their behaviours to the new economic context (Beauchemin et al. 2004). Becker and al. (1994) argue that Structural Adjustment Programs may influence migration trends especially in the medium term by reducing spending for education which may prevent many rural individuals from migrating to urban areas; by the tightening of parastatal enterprises' budgets, through the drop of real wages and employment; by liberalising trade which reduces output and employment in import-substituting industries; by devaluation which may increase migration to areas in which export crop and mineral production takes place especially in rural areas. Moller-Jensen and Knudsen (2008) in their study of urbanisation in Ghana indicate the existence of ‘frontier’ regions, that is, areas that experience a high degree of in-migration by people aiming to undertake specific farming activities. This confirms Pederson’s (1997) assertion that Migrants will often choose to locate in villages or relatively small towns of which many are not—yet—formally urban in order to take part in the agricultural production that is the reason behind their migration.

At the global level, developed countries have become the foci of migration from less developed countries. Europe, North America and Australia have become magnetic poles for migrants from Africa, Asia and the Arab world. The desire to improve and enhance individual capabilities lies at the heart of international migration. International migration is expensive and mandates facilitating conditions that poor people often cannot meet such as visa requirements. Enormous amounts of money are therefore spent by these migrants with the hope of improving themselves and enjoying the range of freedoms that exist in advanced democracies. There is a huge gulf in development between developing and developed countries on all spheres of life.

A range of educational, employment, technological, infrastructural, political and social conditions in existence in the advanced countries constitute the pull factors of migration. While, the poor economic, educational, technological, basic services, infrastructure, oppression and social constraints act as push factors in developing countries. Though people move for a variety of reasons, their ultimate aim is the realisation of their potential freedom from oppressive regimes, war, servitude and hunger. Kingma’s (2001) discussion of push and pull factors accounting for nurse migration illustrates the arguments above. Nurses migrated in search of professional development, sought better wages, improved working conditions, less risky work environment and higher standards of living not present in their native countries. These exhibit education, economic and social push and pull factors of development. Most international migrants seek to enhance their personal capabilities which are useful both in the destination and areas of origin. Enhancing ones capabilities is a holistic process of skill acquisition, use of latest technology, capital accumulation, civil and political rights, and building a culture of tolerance and peace loving.

The forgoing adequately provides conceptually and empirically the importance of development in determining the direction of migration according to the interplay of macro and micro conditions for carving a livelihood free from hunger, oppression and servitude.

Economic versus Socio-Political factors in Migration

It has generally been accepted that the phenomenon of migration is in response to economic forces that push and/or pull people out of their own communities into others - the 'invisible hand of the market' (Plange 1979). Contemporary studies continue to ascribe motives for migration as basically economic with lip-service to the social transformation achieved over the years which is important in understanding why people choose to stay or move. Reasons why people do not move are just as important as reasons why people move in explaining the migration process. Development encapsulates both economic and non-material dimensions. The evidence that most movements in the contemporary world is made by the well-to do rather than the starving and the unemployed should redirect our attention to non-material aspects of development which are more likely to be found in economically endowed areas anywhere globally.

Within the economic-oriented view of migration, the individual is conceptualised as having made a rational and free choice, and a voluntary action on the basis of knowledge of alternative opportunities based on the appreciation of certain better chances for survival and/or perhaps self-advancement. Rural farmers are assumed to make comparisons between earnings on-farm in rural areas and off-farm in urban areas and make rational decisions based on which has higher returns. A mix of strategies involving circular migration whereby farmers seek jobs in urban areas during low activity periods in farming and return home when farming season is in vogue. Similarly, permanent migrants make economic calculations involving their earnings at origin and destination and the possibility of remittances catering for their families and kin. The arguments of wage-differentials accounting for migration are overly simplistic.

Migration seen in the light of core-periphery relations indicates that at the initial stages of development the core will overwhelmingly attract migrants from the periphery. But as development ‘diffuses’ over time due to the shift in understanding from development as economic growth to that of distributive justice, the strength of the core diminishes. The erosion of traditional values and the equalisation in values between the core and the periphery is important in the reversals. Educational facilities and other infrastructural services increases wellbeing in the peripheries and open up economic opportunities for employment. These in conjunction with diseconomies of scale developing in the old cores acts as a disincentive for migration or creation of reverse migration. Migration is therefore a reflection of the degree of diffusion of development into old peripheries rather than just pull economic forces in old cores and new opportunity zones. The level of social change across space dictates the cravings of people for change and the choice to move to places with better change for better living.

Social change is reflected heavily in political and civil rights enjoyed by people. Just as individuals evolve in their understanding of society and each other, the political system also matures in its tolerance of individual’s rights and aspirations. Democratic states and regions tend to have fewer forced migrants than undemocratic states. Where people’s rights are not guaranteed or are trampled upon will result in escape from persecution and this stifles local economic activities. The record of many Ghanaians returning home from abroad is indicative of good governance and its associated opportunities for sustenance. Visa restrictions are relaxed for many categories of people in democratic countries where the rule of law operates because of the low possibility of non-return. Similarly, in traditional rural areas poorly permeated by western values, some traditional norms and practices tend to drive people to migrate. Social change has the tendency to marry enabling traditional norms with western ones for the benefit of local areas.

Massey (1988) contends that, in the process of economic development, nations are transformed from rural, agrarian societies of small-scale institutions, stable social structures, and limited markets into urbanized, industrial societies dominated by large bureaucratic institutions, fluid social organizations, and strong, integrated markets. This process of transformation is inherently revolutionary and highly disruptive, as it displaces many people from traditional livelihoods and past ways of life. In the short run, however, development does not reduce the impetus for migration, it increases it. In the long term, economic growth gradually eliminates the incentives for movement. This is evidenced by emigration from the developed countries of Europe, particularly to the United States, which is now a small fraction of what it was nine or ten decades ago, when they were developing nations (Massey 1988).

War, civil strife, and tribal conflicts are antecedents to poor economic conditions. The problem of refugees and displaced people within countries who are not able to make a living in the presence of chaos and insecurity leads to mass migration. This type of migration is borne out of a complex array of factors without specific origin- could be economic hardships translating into war with subsequent multiplier effects on other dimensions of development or political dictatorship and oppression translating into war and eventually resulting in collapse economies which force people to migrate. War is an important source of unfreedom which causes hunger and famine considered the vital signs of economic push forces.

It is impossible to conclude on the real or potential force of migration without looking at how the different forces are synergistically interwoven. A historical understanding of social change and the relations between core (primary receiving areas) and peripheries (primary sending areas) is important in any discussion of migration forces.

Conclusions: Migration as a Process of Cumulative Causation

It is virtually tautological that development produces migration since no country has experienced an industrial transformation without urbanizing, and urbanization occurs almost exclusively through rural-to-urban migration (Massey 1988). The spatial configuration of development ensures a self-sustaining process in which places by some initial advantages that were more developed than others continue to develop either at the expense or at a faster rate than their less developed counterparts therefore calling for more migrants to fuel the process. There is the tendency for emigration to become progressively independent of the economic conditions that originally caused it. The movement of population alters social and economic structures within sending communities in ways that increase the likelihood of subsequent migration.

According to Myrdal (1957), changes in social system does not induce countervailing changes, but rather induces supporting changes which move the system further away from the initial state. He argues that once development starts in a particular centre, that region induces its own momentum of growth through the process of cumulative causation. The momentum of growth is sustained and fortified by the center's contact with other parts of country and trade and factor movements have ‘backwash effects’ and ‘spread effects’ on lagging regions.

In developing countries the backwash effects are stronger than spread effects meaning that the tendency for migration to slow down is weaker. The Ghanaian case in which northern underdevelopment through intentional development strangulation (Hesselberg and Yaro) has imprinted structural bottlenecks that continue to define the landscape of movement irrespective of intervention measures put in place by post-independent governments, is evidence of this process. Structural mechanisms that ensures the migration trend include social networks, agrarian transformation and and income redistribution (Massey 1988).

From the forgoing discussions the importance of development as push and pull factors rather than singularia frameworks have been argued. The evidence in developed and developing countries and the mechanisms that shape patterns of development in these two zones are different. Equalization of development between North America and Europe has diminished migration greatly between them. While continuous polarization between the developed and the developing countries and within developing countries through processes of cumulative causation increases the gulf in development achievements and its consequent push and pull attributes.



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Joseph A. Yaro is researcher at the Centre for Migration Studies University of Ghana, Legon  

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