Migration

Posted: 26 January 2008

Little is known with certainty about urban migration, though some estimates are that it may account for between 40 and 60 per cent of annual urban population growth. Migration is clearly more significant in rapidly industrializing regions such as Asia and parts of Africa. China, for example, may see 200 million more rural labourers looking for work in the cities over the next decade. In other regions that have largely completed the urban transition, such as Latin America, Europe and North America, it is less significant.

Credit: WHO/IRC

  • Migration across borders to urban centres is a growing phenomena. For example, as transport links improve and economic barriers fall the migration north into Mexico and the United States is increasing. The civil war in El Salvador prompted nearly a fifth of the population to leave the country, mostly to the United States.

  • Though many migrants work in the informal sector, with low pay and little security, surveys suggest that the move to the city does improve their situation. One survey in New Delhi found that poor migrants from the countryside found their income was more than twice what they could earn in their home village.

  • Urbanisation has also had a generally positive effect on the access to reproductive health care, and urban mothers and infants especially generally benefit. It has played a key role in assisting the decline in the average family size in developing countries from over six children in the 1950s to under four today.

  • Along with education, income and health care, the decline in birth rates correlates closely with urbanisation. Despite all the environmental hazards, life expectancy is significantly longer and infant mortality significantly lower in urban areas, as against rural ones. Surveys in 17 countries showed that children under two had a 25 per cent better chance of survival by living in towns rather than in the countryside.

  • At the same time, the relative concentration of the poor in towns and cities is increasing. The World Bank estimates that, worldwide, 30 per cent of poor people live in urban areas. By 2020 the proportion is projected to reach 40 per cent, and by 2035 half of the world's poor people are projected to live in urban areas .

Related links:State of the World's Cities Report 2001.The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements, UN-Habitat 2003.

This article has been prepared with the generous assistance of Robert Livernash, Senior Editor at the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington and David Satterthwaite, Director of the Human Settlements Programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. It is partly drawn from World Resources 1996-97, published by WRI.