Millions of people are on the move worldwide, pushed or pulled to leave their home countries by a host of factors including economics, governance, conflict and war, climate change, and social networks abroad. However, a new analysis of a decade's worth of Gallup World Poll data reveals that many people are spurred to move not only for their own wellbeing, but for that of children.
Since, overall, people and families generally migrate to improve their living standards, it follows that children's living standards in their country of origin and abroad should play a certain role in migration decisions. In a recent working paper, "Child-Related Concerns and Migration Decisions: Evidence From the Gallup World Poll," a team of researchers from the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency focused their attention on finding out whether, and to what extent, children's wellbeing is a potential driver of migration.
In World Poll surveys in more than 150 countries between 2006 and 2016, hundreds of thousands of adults were asked about their intention to migrate. These intentions may take different forms, such as aspirations/desire to migrate, actual plans and related preparations/activities. The World Poll offered two variables to measure intentions: desire and plans to migrate. The former capture whether an individual would like to move permanently to another country, while the latter identifies whether an individual is planning to do it. We uncovered positive, significant relationships between both migration desires and plans and child-related variables.
Estimates show that Gallup's Youth Development Index -- which includes measures of whether children are treated with respect, have opportunities to learn and grow and the public's general satisfaction with the educational system -- is significantly related to both desires and plans to migrate.
Unpacking this index, the "children treated with respect" measure is statistically related to both, meaning individuals who say children are not treated with respect are more likely to both desire and plan to leave. The "opportunity for children to learn and grow" measure has barely any influence on desire to migrate and no statistically significant effect on plans to move.
Migration desires/plans of individuals living in households with children (aged 15 and younger) and without children are affected by these child-related variables, but those with children present are affected more.
The World Poll asks if children younger than age 15 are present in the home, but it does not specify the relationship to the respondent. Meaning, it's not possible to know whether the respondent is related to the child or children. In general, individuals living in households with children present are more likely than those without children present to say they would like to migrate, but they are less likely to have plans to do so.
This relationship varies by country income level. For example, children's presence in the home is positively associated with migration desire in low- and upper-middle-income countries.
However, we can see that the Youth Development Index has a stronger association among households with children compared to those without, regarding both migration intent and plans.
The magnitude of the association between concerns related to children and migration intent appears to be similar in low- and high-income countries.
The estimated effect of child-related variables on desire and plans to migrate is comparable to that of the factors traditionally identified as migration drivers.
The effect sizes of child-related variables are comparable to the size of factors related to economics, governance and lack of security. And in some instances, they seem to take on even more importance.
Child-related concerns seem to matter more than satisfaction with public services and food deprivation when we consider migration desire as a dependent variable. Satisfaction with public services, economic conditions and confidence in key institutions play a secondary role to child-related concerns when we consider migration plans as a dependent variable.
This working paper offers insight into the relationship between child-related concerns and people's desire to migrate and plans to do so. The strength of this relationship may be a starting point for additional analysis that recognizes children's wellbeing as a migration driver and dives further into possible causal relationships.
These findings also may have implications for policy and programming. Policies that improve the quality of life for children may act as pull factors, drawing people on the move to family-friendly countries, and at the same time, interventions that improve child welfare in a country of origin may discourage people from moving away.
Read the working paper, "Child-Related Concerns and Migration Decisions: Evidence From the Gallup World Poll."
Sara Burrone is a development economist at the Italian National Research Council (CNR). Her main research interests are child wellbeing, migration, gender, labor economics and agricultural economics.
Bina D'Costa is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations in the Coral Bell School, Australia National University.
Göran Holmqvist is Head of Department at Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.