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What Makes 700 Million Adults Want to Migrate

What Makes 700 Million Adults Want to Migrate

by Timothy B. Gravelle, Rajesh Srinivasan, Neli Esipova and Julie Ray

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Like their desire to migrate, the factors behind why 700 million people say they would like to move permanently to another country vary by country, region, and level of human development. But Gallup's study of these potential migrants show that worldwide, regardless of whether human development is high or low, those with links to family or friends abroad are more likely to want to move to another country.


Gallup's surveys in 103 countries between 2008 and 2009 reinforce how important transnational social networks are to migration. Respondents who have relatives or friends who live in a foreign country are more than twice as likely to say they would like to move to another country permanently if they had the chance. Even those with family or friends who have returned from abroad are more likely to desire to move.

Factors such as age and education also emerge as global drivers of people's desire to migrate, suggesting that those with fewer commitments or greater mobility may simply feel more able to move. Overall, regardless of the national level of human development, adults who are younger than 35 and have at least some secondary education express a stronger desire to migrate than those who are older and less educated.


Other Drivers of Desire to Migrate Vary by Level of Human Development

Because of the vast differences in levels of human development across countries, Gallup grouped the 103 countries according to their United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) scores and into five categories. Gallup's groups correspond with the United Nations' categories of human development. These groups include very high human development, high human development, medium human development (Gallup split this group because of the wide range in scores and distinct patterns that emerged in the top half of this range compared with the bottom half), and low human development.


Across these five groups, the median desire to move to another country varies, but it tends to be higher in countries with medium to low human development.


Gallup analyzed people's desires to migrate using several independent variables such as sex, age, education, confidence in national leadership, local institutions, corruption in business and government, the presence of transnational social networks, and others.

In nearly every human development group, except HDI3b, a lack of confidence in one's local police, the belief that most people are afraid to express their political views, and the perception that the country's children are not treated with respect drive desire to migrate. But Gallup finds within these groups, what predicts or does not predict migration desires depends on the situations and circumstances that people find themselves in.

HDI4: Low Human Development (HDI Scores Lower Than .50)

In the low human development group, which includes Afghanistan and several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, political factors (indicating that corruption is widespread in government, expressing disapproval of country leadership, and indicating that most people in one's country are afraid to express their political views) are not significant predictors of desire to migrate when other attitudinal factors are taken into account. It's entirely possible that people in this category live in such dire poverty that they are more focused on survival -- affording food and shelter -- than they are on the relative constants of corruption and repression.

HDI3b: Medium Human Development (HDI Scores Between .50 and .649)

As previously noted, the HDI3b group, which includes countries such as India, Haiti, Angola, and Pakistan, stands out from other groups. In contrast to what one would expect, lack of confidence in one's local police or the belief that the country's children are not treated with respect do not drive migration desires. Instead, intent to start one's own business stands out as a uniquely strong predictor of desire to migrate in this group.

HDI3a: Medium Human Development (HDI Scores Between .65 and .79)

Countries in the HDI3a group are also considered medium development countries and include the Philippines, Honduras, Ukraine, and Vietnam. Economic factors (indicating that economic conditions are poor, the national economy is poor, or that it is a bad time to find a job in one's country) are not significant predictors of desire to migrate when other attitudinal factors are taken into account.

HDI2: High Human Development (HDI Scores Between .80 and .89)

Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia, and Turkey and several others fall into the HDI2 or high human development category. Notably, the effect of having family members abroad or of having family members who have gone abroad and returned is stronger than in other HDI levels.

HDI1: Very High Human Development (HDI Scores .90 and Higher)

Countries in the HDI1 group are very highly developed and include the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The perception that corruption is widespread in the businesses in one's country is a unique driver of desire to migrate in these countries.

Bottom Line

While Gallup's findings reflect aspirations rather than intent, they show that hundreds of millions are feeling pulled or pushed toward countries other than their own. Viewing these desires through the lens of human development is only one way to look at these data. Factors that fuel the desire to leave one's country vary by country, region, and human development level, but a common theme is opportunity -- whether it is the chance to reunite with family members who are already abroad, to start a new business, to feel free to express one's views without fear, or to live where children are treated with respect.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on aggregated telephone and face-to-face interviews with 101,380 adults, aged 15 and older, from 2008 to 2009 in 103 countries. Although data were available for 135 countries, only 103 countries were used in the analysis as not all items were asked in all countries because of local restrictions. For results based on the total sample of adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is between ±2.5 percentage points in Russia and ±5.8 points in Zambia. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. The Human Development Index values used in this analysis are for the year 2007 and were obtained from the United Nations Human Development Report 2009.

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