Agricultural Development Economics


Economic development and the evolution of internal migration. Moving in steps, returnees, and gender differences
FAO Agricultural Development Economics Working Paper 19-03
Andrea Cattaneo and Sherman Robinson
Publication date
This paper sheds new light on internal migration processes by estimating migration flows for 31 countries, focusing on step migration and on return migration back to rural areas from urban areas. The approach is to estimate the shares of the population (by gender) that move or stay in rural and urban areas over three periods (childhood and two forward periods). Using data from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the estimation was done with an information-theoretic procedure using maximum-entropy econometrics to estimate migration frequencies by population groups. Sizeable urban to rural migration flows are found, with rural returnees often contributing substantially to urban-to-rural flows. This phenomenon is more pronounced in countries in relatively early phases of development, and among male migrants. The analysis also confirms anecdotal evidence that migrants move in several steps and that internal migration patterns vary considerably according to gender; however, in countries that are further along the path of structural transformation, and particularly urbanization, the magnitude of migration flows appears to be similar across genders.