Friday, 18 December 2015

Minding the Migration Data Gap: new data from the Migrating out of Poverty Consortium

By Julie Litchfield

Research on migration and development has seen a dramatic resurgence in recent years. As Michael Clemens, Çağlar Özden and Hillel Rapoport Michael A. Clemens, Çağlar Özden, Hillel RapoportMichael A. Clemens, Çağlar Özden, Hillel Rapoportoutline in their introduction to the special issue on migration and development of World Development in 2014[1], part of this renewed interest and increase in published research is due to long overdue[2] improvements in the availability and quality of data. Estimates of international migration and remittances are now published by the World Bank and the UN Population Division compiles census data to give estimates of migrants stocks.

This improvement in data quality and data availability allows us to make tentative statements about the extent of internal and international migration. One of the most serious attempts to estimate internal migration is underway by researchers at the IMAGE project who use census data to estimate that globally in 2005 there were 229 million people living within the same country but in a different part of that country compared to five years before. Estimates for lifetime internal migration are much higher, with 763 million people in 2005 living outside their region of birth.[3]  Combining these with UN estimates of international migrants of 232 million people living outside their country of birth, suggest that nearly a billion people live away from their region of birth. 

Census data is useful for providing insights into how many people are migrants and their demographic profile but is less useful for understanding the why and the how of migration. Understanding why people migrate and for how long, how that contributes to, or even changes, their and their household’s livelihoods and well-being are just some of the questions of great interest to migration researchers and policy makers. These questions can be answered with qualitative research and there are some impressive examples to draw on which provide rich and nuanced stories of migrant lives. Deirdre McKay’s ethnographic work provides new insights into the aspirations and experiences of Filipino temporary labour migrants;[4] Trond Waage uses visual anthropological tools to document the lives of young migrants in west Africa; and Migrating out of Poverty (MOOP) partners at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, have used qualitative methods to shed light on the recruitment of Indonesian domestic workers.

Complementing this qualitative work is a growing body of evidence emerging from quantitative research using household surveys. These offer the opportunity to include more people in the research sample than qualitative research typically allows, anything from a few hundred to a few thousand people is pretty normal, and to use more detailed questions that capture a wider range of data than is feasible to collect in a population census. There are a growing number of household surveys for developing countries which capture information on migrants. For example, the Mexican Migrant Project collects and publishes data on migration between Mexico and the United States, and a number of household and labour force surveys now contain supplementary modules on migration.[5]  These are encouraging signs that the migration data gap is closing but there is still some way to go.  

The Migrating out of Poverty (MOOP) consortium is contributing towards this by publishing open access micro data from a set of five comparable household surveys collected between 2013 and 2015, in five developing countries: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe.   The precise sampling strategy differs across countries, and we can’t claim that our samples are nationally representative. However because we adopt a purposive approach, selecting regions which are known to be migrant-sending and sampling quotas of households with and without migrants, we generate large enough sub-samples of households and individuals across different categories of migrants and non-migrants to make us confident that our findings are robust.

Our sample sizes range between 1200 and 1400 households, with data available on every member of those households. We adopt a near identical survey instrument in each country, which facilitates comparisons to be drawn across countries. Our household questionnaire includes a complete household roster collecting social, economic and demographic data on both migrant and non-migrant members of the household, and a specially designed module that captures interactions between migrants and their households in the form of remittances and social contacts. Our survey also explores perceptions of migration as a way of improving the living standards of households.

One of the important contributions the MOOP consortium hopes to make by collecting and publishing this data is to support more research into internal and intra-regional migration. As the figures of migration estimates quoted above suggest, three out of four migrants remain within their country of birth and much international migration is within the global South. Our data will help to shed more light on these movements and help to inform policies that respond appropriately to those affected by migration.

The full data sets from the first three of our surveys undertaken in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Ghana, are now available to download for free from Data is available in both STATA and SPSS formats and users can access the questionnaire and a short user guide for each survey. Data for Ethiopia and Zimbabwe will be made available in 2016. 

We want students, researchers and teachers to access the data, and policy makers to use it. Feed back to us and let us know what you do with it.

Bangladesh internal and international migration destination maps
Remittances help fund improvements in housing

[4] McKay D. 2012. Global Filipinos. Indiana University Press.
[5] See Santo Tomas et al (2009) for a useful audit of migration data.

Julie Litchfield is the Theme Leader for Quantitative Research for the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium (MOOP) and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Sussex. Working Papers discussing aspects of the findings of the Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia and Zimbabwe surveys are also available. A summary of key data from the Indonesia survey has also been published. See also Eva-Maria Egger's presentation of the preliminary findings of MOOP's household survey conducted in Zimbabwe  and her related blog discussing the context:  Migration in Southern Africa: A Visit to the City of Migrants.

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