more on: migration

Are the Poor Less Likely to Migrate?

+ Brandon Fuller

According to economists’ estimates the benefits from lowering barriers to international migration are enormous. But, in a world with more open borders, would the relatively poor people who might benefit most from migration really be able to afford it? A recent working paper by Ran Abramitzky, Leah Platt Boustan, and Katherine Eriksson suggests that they would.

They consider the effect of parental wealth on the decision to migrate among 50,000 Norwegian men during the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1913), a time of minimal government constraints on migration.

Parental wealth can affect migration directly by financing the cost of migration or indirectly by providing access to land or to a family business in the source country…[We] show that men growing up in households with assets were significantly less likely to leave their municipality of birth. We are also able to match a subset of our individuals to property tax rolls and show that men from households with a higher tax bill (and, therefore, more taxable assets) are less likely to migrate. Furthermore, siblings who could expect, by virtue of their birth order or sibling composition, to inherit their family’s land were even less likely to migrate. These findings suggest that the poor today might indeed be more likely to migrate if migration restrictions were lifted.

Today, high barriers to migration artificially increase the cost of migration, making poorer people less likely to migrate than those with access to wealth. Lowering migration barriers would reduce these costs, making international movement more affordable. The corresponding increase in migration would increase the size of migrant networks, making it more likely that any given poor person would know someone who has moved abroad. Knowing someone who lives abroad would increase the likelihood that a poor person is willing to move in the first place. The expanded networks would also give more poor people access to credit to finance their trips as well as access to community support once they arrive.

Back to top
see comments ()