Table of Contents

International Handbook on the Economics of Migration

International Handbook on the Economics of Migration

Elgar original reference

Edited by Amelie F. Constant and Klaus F. Zimmermann

Migration economics is a dynamic, fast-growing research area with significant and rising policy relevance. While its scope is continually extending, there is no authoritative treatment of its various branches in one volume. Written by 44 leading experts in the field, this carefully commissioned and refereed Handbook brings together 28 state-of-the-art chapters on migration research and related issues.

Chapter 2: Modeling individual migration decisions

John Kennan and James R. Walker

Subjects: development studies, migration, economics and finance, international economics, politics and public policy, migration, social policy and sociology, migration, urban and regional studies, migration


We review empirical analyses of migration decisions, using life-cycle models to interpret migration histories. The starting points are Schultz (1961), who considered migration as a form of investment in human capital, and Da Vanzo (1983), who documented the richness of individual migration histories, pointing out that although most individuals never move, those who do are likely to move again, often returning to a home location.1This means that migration decisions should be viewed as a sequence of location choices, where the individual knows there will be opportunities to modify or reverse moves that do not work out well. Sjaastad’s (1962) treatment of migration as an investment emphasizes the dynamic aspect of migration _ expected costs and payoffs to migration change over time. Viewed within a life-cycle perspective, individuals (or families) decide whether and when to move. Allowing households to make multiple migration decisions substantially increases the model’s complexity. Decisions made in previous periods (for example, savings, education, marriage and fertility) determine choices available in the current period, and expectations of future events also influence current decisions.

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