Ravenstein's laws of migration

Ravenstein's laws of migration

In a paper delivered to the Journal of the Statistical Society in England in 1885, Ernest George Ravenstein, a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, outlined a series of "laws of migration" that attempted to explain and predict migration patterns both within and between nations. Ravenstein's basic laws, and additional laws subsequently derived from his work, continue to serve as the starting point for virtually all serious models of migration patterns over a century later. For his migration study, Ravenstein compared census data gathered in 1871 and 1881, the most recent tabulations available at the time. Although Ravenstein's paper only focused on information gleaned from surveys within the United Kingdom, he made the bold jump of formulating from his observations a series of seven "laws of migration":

1) Most migrants only proceed a short distance, and toward centers of absorption.

By way of illustration, almost half of emigrants from Latin America in the 1990s arrived in the United States, and the main destinations of Tunisians and Moroccans is France, Italy and Spain. Second, they tend to come from middle-income rather than the poorest developing countries. OECD noted that a large proportion of migration in the developing world remains intraregional and does not cross into OECD countries. For example Africa, the continent with the largest number of least developed countries, shows low rates of emigration to OECD countries.

2) As migrants move toward absorption centers, they leave "gaps" that are filled up by migrants from more remote districts, creating migration flows that reach to "the most remote corner of the kingdom."

3) The process of dispersion is inverse to that of absorption.

4) Each main current of migration produces a compensating counter-current.

5) Migrants proceeding long distances generally go by preference to one of the great centers of commerce or industry. In simple words, large cities are magnets for longer distance migration.

6) The natives of towns are less migratory than those of the rural parts of the country.

7) Females are more migratory than males within the country of birth, but males move more frequently beyond

This contribution to migration theory, developed mostly to explain internal migration, constitute the bedrock upon which the now well-known push-pull model was built. In its classical variant, the push-pull model conceptually applies Newton’s law of gravity and rules of attraction between two bodies to migration patterns. Its main underpinning assumption is that migrants are pushed out of low income, highly populated areas or countries and pulled towards more affluent and less populated areas or countries, and will continue to do so until economic and demographic stability between the areas is reached.

The shortcomings of this theoretical framework are manifold, as became evident with observations of real-world migratory patterns. First, demographic reasons and poverty alone are not sufficient conditions to determine migration. Second, the model looks at migration in static terms, neglecting that it is a societal process that affects the conditions and the environments in which it takes place. Lastly, it suffers from an ecological fallacy, since it is 'confounding macro-level migration determinants (e.g., population growth, environmental degradation, climate change or variability) with individual migration motives’.

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons 

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