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3.4: Demographic Transition, Migration, and Political Policy

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    3.4.1 What is the relationship between population structure and migration?

    Even though people generally migrate to find/make a better life for themselves and for their families, the benefits and pitfalls of migration affect different countries and regions in very different ways. Demography (age structure) has a lot to do with understanding how such a differentiation occurs. (Hint: You may need to go back to Chapter 2 to review your understanding of the demographic transition model or click here):

    The demographic transition model explains how countries experience different stages of population growth and family sizes, but the model also works well to understand sources and destinations for migrants. Before the explanation continues, take a look at the model to see if you can predict the stages during which you would expect large-scale emigration versus immigration. Do you feel confident in your guesses? Why or why not?

    Geographers note that countries of emigration tend to be late in stage 2 or early stage 3, while countries of immigration tend to be late stage 4 or stage 5 countries. Let’s think about this for just a moment. At what age are people most likely to take the risk to move to a completely different country to seek their fortune? Would you move to Slovenia next year, if you could earn triple your current salary? Most international migrants tend to be relatively young (18-35) during the prime of their working years. Countries that tend to have an abundance of working-age people also tend to be early in stage 3 of the model. Countries like Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, and India had large families a generation ago. As those children enter their working years, there are not enough jobs created due to an “oversupply” of laborers. Meanwhile, countries in late stage 4 find that because of low fertility rates a generation earlier, the economy now faces a shortage of working-age residents to do all kinds of jobs. Birth rates were high during the 1950’s in the US, but as women had fewer children in subsequent generations, fewer workers were entering the workforce every year. Unsurprisingly, young workers from Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, etc., began to immigrate as the demand for their labor increased. In Europe, the same pattern occurred as those from higher fertility countries like Turkey migrated to lower fertility countries like Germany.

    3.4.2 Why do some countries benefit from migration while others do not?

    Demographic realities can be push factors or pull factors that serve to push people away from a place or pull them towards a place as explained in the previous paragraph. Push and pull factors can be cultural, economic, or ecological. Baptists might be “pulled” towards the American South, and Mormons might be “pulled” to Utah for cultural reasons. Meanwhile, the devastation of Hurricane Maria (2017) “pushed” hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans off the island. The most common destination for Puerto Ricans was Florida for economic (jobs), ecological (warm weather), and cultural (existing Spanish speakers) reasons. When the push factors and pull factors fit together nicely, migration can benefit both the sending and receiving regions.

    Very often in the case of forced migration, however, migration does not benefit both parties. Those migrants who flee their country based upon claims of danger based upon race, religion, nationality, or other pertinent identifiers are known as asylum seekers. They seek a country willing to take them in permanently for fear of imprisonment, retribution, or death in their country of origin. When asylum seekers have satisfactorily demonstrated a claim in court, their status changes to refugee. Under international agreement, refugees cannot be forced to return to any country where they are deemed to be in danger, so refugee status provides displaced people with a legal protection against deportation. The number of refugees worldwide at the end of 2016 was 22.5 million, the highest total of refugees since the end of WWII. There were also 40.3 million people uprooted within their own country, known as internally displaced people (IDP), bringing the total number of displaced people to an all-time high of nearly 63 million. In recent years, large numbers of asylum seekers have left Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela, and Myanmar (formerly Burma) as wars and political conflict have endangered millions. During previous wars, wealthier countries in Europe, North America, and Australia accepted large numbers of asylum seekers, but anti-immigrant sentiments have risen in many parts of the world, leaving the majority of would-be refugees without refuge. Opponents of resettlement argue that the cost is just too great, and they fear that accepting refugees would encourage more unwelcome immigration in the future, so this has significantly reduced the number of migrants that countries are willing to accept.

    Though twenty-first century anti-immigrant sentiment remains high in countries like the US, Australia, and the U.K., the benefits for receiving countries are well documented. Apart from the demographic advantages already described, employers and consumers tend to benefit markedly from the low-cost, readily- available supply of labor provided by immigrants. Everything from the cost of fruit, construction, fast food, and lawn care tends to be cheaper owing to an immigrant labor force. Evidence also indicates that wages in low-skilled jobs may be suppressed by immigrants, but the overall economic benefit is widely reported by economists to be favorable when unemployment rates are low. Immigrants have higher rates of employment, are more likely to start businesses and are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born population in the US Sending countries also tend to benefit from emigration in two ways. First, emigration provides an opportunity for young workers who cannot find employment at home. Second, emigrants tend to send home the majority of their overseas earnings. Money sent home by overseas workers is called remittances. Countries that send large numbers of workers overseas benefit from the large infusion of foreign capital into the local economy, which tends to spur new investment opportunities. When migration is working smoothly, both sending and receiving countries can benefit.

    Besides low-skilled workers and refugees, a third category of immigrant has increased dramatically under globalization. Highly-skilled immigrants represent a unique contradiction. On the one hand, countries seek to increase border security, limit asylum seekers, and build walls. On the other, those same countries actively recruit and seek to attract immigrants with specific skills, training, and educational levels. Most commonly, wealthy countries like the U.K. regularly recruit nurses, scientists, and engineers from poorer countries to meet the needs of an aging population. As British residents have fewer children and society gets older, there is more demand specifically for healthcare workers of all kinds. As such, the best and brightest minds from poorer countries become attracted to the much higher wages outside of their countries and they leave—resulting in a brain drain. Nearly sixty percent of all doctors born in Ghana and eighty-five percent of nurses born in the Philippines have left the country to work elsewhere! Wealthy countries reap the benefits of this brain gain. Although highly-skilled and educated individuals and families that emigrate for higher pay undoubtedly benefit from emigration, the countries that experience brain drain persistently lose a very valuable resource. Besides losing most of its doctors, Ghana also now faces a major shortage of those qualified to teach the next generation of medical professionals, so the negative effect crosses multiple generations.

    This page titled 3.4: Demographic Transition, Migration, and Political Policy is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by David Dorrel & Joseph P. Henderson (University of North Georgia Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.