Migration-and-Development Is All Grown Up—and It’s Going to Get Even Bigger

May 16, 2014

Migration-and-development has grown into a field of its own, in both research and policy.

One picture reveals the trend in research. In the 1960s there was a burst of research interest in migration and development—mostly about migration within countries, as much of the developing world embarked on rapid urbanization. That interest waned in the 70s. But over the last 20 years, more and more development papers mention migration, and more and more migration papers mention development:


Back in 1985, Oded Stark and David Bloom foretold a “new economics of labor migration”. It turns out they were right.

This renewed energy in research is focusing on international migration, as I discuss in a new paper with Çağlar Özden and Hillel Rapoport, from which the figure above is drawn. The latest research explores connections between migration and the broader development process—including human capital investment, circular or temporary migration, and the transfer of technology and cultural norms through global diaspora networks.

This vibrant new agenda goes way beyond the familiar focus on remittances. With Tim Ogden, I’ve recently criticized the remittances research agenda as too narrow, missing opportunities to learn more about how poor families use migration to manage their financial lives. In separate new work, David McKenzie and I critique the research literature on how remittances affect growth—arguing that economists’ most-used data and methods might not be up to the task yet.

Since 2008 this surge of academic interest has had its own “home”: the annual Migration and Development Conference. This year’s will be hosted at Oxford at the end of next month. I’m pleased to play a small role in that conference, though the major credit belongs to the Agence Française de Développement, the World Bank, and Oxford’s International Migration Institute. Unrelated to the conference, a new Migration and Development journal was created in 2012, catering primarily to qualitative social scientists.

Alongside this rise in research, global policy interest has surged as well. In 2007 the Global Forum on Migration and Development was created, and just met this week for the seventh time in Stockholm. Last year the United Nations convened a High-Level Dialogue on migration and development. Migration is now a major theme of work by aid agencies from Germany to New Zealand.

This research and policy agenda is just getting started. As global development proceeds, we can expect more migration rather than less. In years to come, development agencies will need migration bureaus, and immigration agencies will need to weight the development effects of their decisions. I hope that those tectonic shifts will guide—and be guided by—some of the best research. I’m glad to see researchers rising to that challenge.


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