Human migration denotes any movement by humans from one locality to another, often over long distances or in large groups. Humans are known to have migrated extensively throughout history and prehistory.

Migration and population isolation is one of the four evolutionary forces (along with natural selection, genetic drift, and mutation). The study of the distribution of and change in allele (gene variations) frequencies under such influences is the discipline of Population genetics.
Net migration rate world

Net migration rates for 2006: positive (blue), negative (orange) and stable (green).

The movement of populations in modern times has continued under the form of both voluntary migration within one's region, country, or beyond, and involuntary migration (which includes slave trade, Trafficking in human beings and ethnic cleansing). The people who migrate are called migrants, or, more specifically, emigrants, immigrants or settlers, depending on historical setting, circumstance and perspective.


There is only one evolutionary mechanism: this mechanism is 'selection' both in natural form and in un-natural form(i.e. breeding by cultural(human) intervention); selection acts on physical structures both at the gene level (indirectly) and at the cultural (see memes)level (directly); all other phenomena, such as population isolation, are results of the selection mechanisms at work, they are not evolutionary forces.

Different types of migration include:

  • Daily human commuting.
  • Seasonal human migration is mainly related to agriculture.
  • Permanent migration, for the purposes of permanent or long-term stays.
  • Local
  • Regional
  • Rural to Urban, more common in developing countries as industrialization takes effect (urbanization)
  • Urban to Rural, more common in developed countries due to a higher cost of urban living (see white flight)
  • International migration

Human migration has taken place at all times and in the greatest variety of circumstances. It has been tribal, national, class and individual. Its causes have been climatic, political, economic, religious, or more love of adventure. Its causes and results are fundamental for the study of ethnology, of political and social history, and of political economy.

The pressures of human migrations, whether as outright conquest or by slow cultural infiltration and resettlement, have affected the grand epochs in history (e.g. the fall of the Western Roman Empire); under the form of colonization, migration has transformed the world (e.g. the prehistoric and historic settlements of Australia and the Americas). Population genetics studied in traditionally settled modern populations have opened a window into the historical patterns of migrations, a technique pioneered by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

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Forced migration (see population transfer) has been a means of social control under authoritarian regimes, yet under free initiative migration is a powerful factor in social adjustment (e.g. the growth of urban populations).

In December 2003 The Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM) was launched with the support of Kofi Annan and several countries, with an independent 19-member Commission, threefold mandate and a finite life-span, ending December 2005. Its report, based on regional consultation meetings with stakeholders and scientific reports from leading international migration experts, was published and presented to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 5 October 2005. The 90-page Report, along with supporting evidence, is available on the GCIM website [1]

Push and Pull FactorsEdit

Push and Pull factors are those factors which either forcefully push someone into migration or attract them. A push factor is a forceful factor, and a factor which relates to the country the person is migrating from. It is generally a problem which the results in people wanting to migrate. Different types of Push Factors can be seen further below. A pull factor is something concerning the country a person migrates to. It is generally a good thing that attracts people to a certain place. Push and Pull factors are usually considered as north and south poles on a magnet. The idea is to have the attraction in the middle, i.e the place.

Push Factors

  • Not enough jobs
  • Few opportunities
  • Primitive Conditions
  • Political fear
  • Poor Medical Care
  • Not being able to practice religion
  • Loss of wealth
  • Natural Disasters

Pull Factors

  • Chances of getting a job
  • Better living standards
  • Political and/or religious freedom
  • Enjoyment
  • Education
  • Better Medical Care
  • Security
  • Family Links

Pre-modern migrationsEdit

Historical migration of human populations begins with the movement of Homo erectus out of Africa across Eurasia about a million years ago. Homo sapiens appear to have colonised all of Africa about 150 thousand years ago, moved out of Africa 80 thousand years ago, and spread across Eurasia and to Australia 40 thousand years ago. Migration to the Americas took place 20 to 15 thousand years ago, and by 2 thousand years ago, most of the Pacific Islands were colonised. Later population movements notably include the Neolithic revolution, Indo-European expansion, and the Early Medieval Great Migrations including Turkic expansion. The Age of Exploration and European Colonialism led to an accelerated pace of migration since Early Modern times.

Modern migrationsEdit


While the pace of migration had accelerated since the 18th century already (including the involuntary slave trade), it would increase further in the 19th century. Manning distinguishes three major types of migration: labour migration, refugee migrations and lastly: urbanization. Millions of agricultural workers left the countryside and moved to the cities causing unprecedented levels of urbanization. This phenomenon began in Britain in the late 18th century and spread around the world and continues to this day in many areas.

Industrialization encouraged migration wherever it appeared. The increasingly global economy globalised the labour market. Atlantic slave trade diminished sharply after 1820, which gave rise to self-bound contract labour migration from Europe and Asia to plantations. Also overpopulation, open agricultural frontiers and rising industrial centres attracted voluntary, encouraged and sometimes coerced migration. Moreover, migration was significantly eased by improved transportation techniques.

During this same period similar large numbers of people migrated over large distances within Asia. Southeastern Asia received 50 million migrants, mainly from India and south China. North Asia, that be Manchuria, Siberia, Central Asia and Japan together, received another 50 million. A movement that started in the 1890s with migrants from China, Russia and Korea, and was especially large due to coerced migration from the Soviet Union and Japan in the 1930s. Less is known about exact numbers of the migrations from and within Africa in this period, but Africa experienced a small nett immigration between 1850 and 1950, from a variety of origins.

Transnational labour migration reached a peak of three million migrants per year in the early twentieth century. Italy, Norway, Ireland and the Quongdong region of China were regions with especially high emigration rates during these years. These large migration flows influenced the process of nation state formation in many ways. Immigration restrictions have been developed, as well as diaspora cultures and myths that reflect the importance of migration to the foundation of certain nations, like the American melting pot. The transnational labour migration fell to a lower level from 1930s to the 1960s and then rebounded.

The twentieth century experienced also an increase in migratory flows caused by war and politics. Muslims moved from the Balkan to Turkey, while Christians moved the other way, during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. 400.000 Jews moved to Palestine in the early twentieth century. The Russian Civil War caused some 3 million Russians, Poles and Germans to migrate out of the Soviet Union. World War II and decolonization also caused migrations, see below.

Patrick Manning, Migration in World History (2005) p 132-162.
Adam McKeown, 'Global migration, 1846-1940' in: Journal of Global History (June 2004).

World War IIEdit

See World War II evacuation and expulsion for World War II forced migrations.

The Jewish diaspora across Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East formed from voluntary migrations, enslavement, threats of enslavement and pogroms. After the Nazis brought the Holocaust upon Jewish people in the 1940s, there was increased migration to the British Mandate of Palestine, which became the modern day state of Israel as a result of the 1947 UN Partition Plan.

Provisions of the Potsdam Agreement from 1945 signed by victorious Western Allies and the Soviet Union led to one of the largest European migrations, and definitely the largest in the 20th century. It involved the migration and resettlement of close to or over 20 million people. The largest affected group were 16.5 million Germans expelled from Eastern Europe westwards. The second largest group were Poles, millions of whom were expelled westwards from eastern Kresy region and resettled in the so-called Recovered Territories (see Allies decide Polish border in the article on the Oder-Neisse line). Hundreds of thousands of Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and some Belarusians, were in the meantime expelled eastwards from Europe to the Soviet Union. Finally, many of the several hundred thousand Jews remaining in the Eastern Europe after the Holocaust migrated outside Europe to Israel.

See also: Minorities in Poland after the War

Contemporary migrationEdit

Net migration rate world

Net migration rates for 2006: positive (blue) and negative (orange)

Target countries with currently high immigration rates are North America, Western Europe, Central Europe, Southern Europe, Australia. Due to refugee movements within Africa, there are African countries with high positive as well as negative migration rates. [2]

Countries of origin with high emigration rates are in Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South and Central America:

Small countries like island states can have extremely high migration rates that fluctuate over short times due to their low overall population: Micronesia -2% per year, Grenada -1.6%, Samoa -1.2%, Dominica -0.93%, Suriname and Virgin Islands -0.87%, Greenland -0.83%, Guyana and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines -0.75%; Liberia 2.7%, Kuwait 1.6%, Turks and Caicos Islands 1.1%, San Marino 1.1%.

For more data on contemporary migration see:

Migrations and climate cyclesEdit

The modern field of climate history suggests that the successive waves of Eurasian nomadic movement throughout history have had their origins in climatic cycles, which have expanded or contracted pastureland in Central Asia, especially Mongolia and the Altai. People were displaced from their home ground by other tribes trying to find land that could be grazed by essential flocks, each group pushing the next further to the south and west, into the highlands of Anatolia, the plains of Hungary, into Mesopotamia or southwards, into the rich pastures of China.

Toward an understanding of migrationEdit

Types of migrationsEdit

  • The cyclic movement which involves commuting, a seasonal movement, and nomadism.
  • The periodic movement which consists of migrant labor, military services, and pastoral farming Transhumance.
  • The migratory movement that moves from the eastern part of the United States to the western part. It also moves from China to southeast Asia, from Europe to North America, and from South America to the middle part of the Americas.
  • Internal migration

Ravenstein's 'laws of migration' Edit

Certain laws of social science have been proposed to describe human migration. The following was a standard list after Ravenstein's proposals during the time frame of 1834 to 1913. The laws are as follows:

  1. Most migrants travel short distances and with increasing distance the numbers of migrants decrease. This law is based upon the assumptions that the higher travel costs and a lack of knowledge of more distant places acts against large volumes of migration.
  2. Migration occurs in stages and with a wave-like motion. Based on his observations in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries that migration occurred in steps with people gradually moving up the settlement hierarchy - from rural areas to villages, to towns, to cities and finally the capital city.
  3. Migration increases in volume as industries and commerce develop and transport improves, and the major direction of movement is from agricultural areas to centres of industry and commerce.
  4. Most Migrants are adult. Families rarely migrate out of their country of birth.
  5. Women are more migratory than men within their country of birth but men more frequently venture beyond it.
  6. Urban dwellers are less likely to move than their rural counterparts.

Other migration modelsEdit

Causes of migrationsEdit

Causes of migrations have modified over hundreds of years. Some cases are constant, some of them do not carry the same importance as years ago (for example: in 18th and 19th centuries labor migration did not have the same character like today).

In general we can divide factors causing migrations into two groups of factors: Push and pull factors. In general:

  • Push Factors are economic, political, cultural, and environmentally based.
  • Pull Factors are economic, political, cultural, and environmentally based.
  • Barriers/Obstacles which is an example of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some certain factors are both push and pull like education, industry etc.

On the macro level, the causes of migration can be distilled into two main categories: security dimension of migration (natural disasters, conflicts, threats to individual safety, poor political prospects) and economic dimension of migration (poor economic situation, poor situation of national market). [AIV document]

Effects of migration

Migration like any other process shapes many fields of life, having both advantages and disadvantages. Effects of migrations are:

  • changes in population distribution
  • mixing of different cultures and races, which often leads to negative social behaviors – tensions in society between majorities and minorities, followed often by local struggles and racism and racial discrimination. Also criminality growth can be caused. But effects in different societies can be different. It is possible also some positive cultural effects of migration, for example exchange of cultural experience, new knowledge.
  • demographic consequences: since migration is selective of particular age groups, migrants are mostly young and in productive age. It can cause a demographic crisis – population ageing, what in turn can be followed by economic problems (shrinking group of economically active population has to finance extending group of inactive population).
  • economic results, which are of the greatest importance for the development of the countries.

Migration in the European UnionEdit

The wages in the European Union are generally higher than the rest of Europe- thus explaining why a large number of Eastern Europeans choose to migrate to the EU. However, such migration is becoming increasingly difficult with the EU's ever more stringent immigration laws. Immigrants from the ten mostly Eastern European states admitted to the EU in 2004, however, can freely migrate to the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and Sweden.

For more information go to:



  • Bauder, Harald Labor Movement: How Migration Regulates Labor Markets, New York: Oxford University Press 2006
  • Behdad, Ali, A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States, Duke UP 2005
  • Fell, Peter and Hayes, Debra, "What are they doing here? A critical guide to asylum and immigration." Birmingham (UK): Venture Press 2007.
  • Hoerder, Dirk Cultures in Contact. World Migrations in the Second Millennium, Duke University Press 2002
  • Manning, Patrick Migration in World History, New York and London: Routledge 2005
  • Migration for Employment Paris: OECD Publications, 2004.
  • OECD International Migration Outlook 2007, Paris: OECD Publications, 2007
  • Abdelmalek Sayad, The Suffering of the Immigrant, Preface by Pierre Bourdieu, Polity Press 2004


  • International Migration Review

Online Books

Online DatabasesEdit

Documentary filmsEdit

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Immigration to Germany – A Decade in Review Federal Ministry of the Interior, Germany

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