Economic and Social counterfactuals of migration in Ghana
by Collins Yeboah
Poko, is a 26 year old, unmarried man and a first male child to his parents comes from Nandowli in the Upper West region of Ghana. After secondary school, Poko could not continue with his education as a result of poverty. He migrated to Accra to work in the informal sector so he could support his family back home. Poko remits money to his family regularly for their upkeep; something he would not have done if migration had not occur. However, Poko’s migration to Accra has delayed his plans of getting married and having children. Poko says:
“I don’t have a wife. The pressure from home is too much to bear! I am happy I am able to provide for them though”
Edem, is a 29 year old migrant from Peki, in the Volta region who lives happily with his wife at Haasto, a suburb of Accra. Edem, a school dropout, migrated to Accra about six years ago to work in the informal sector as a mason. He married his wife two years ago something he says “he wouldn’t have done had he not migrated to Accra”.
Though Edem feels sad for not being able to further his education, he has gained financially and socially from his migration to Accra. He is able to send money back home to his household members back home but not on a regular basis:
“They are always on me to send them money. But you know I have another family here to cater for”
The search for opportunities
For the two migrants, their migration to Accra, started with thoughts about opportunities in settings other than their places of origin. Migration is an action invested with a great deal of hope. They had hoped for better jobs and improved living conditions. For migrants like Poko and Edem, from relatively poorer areas, migration to towns and cities is often viewed as a relative increase in economic status as it increases their incomes in an “absolute” sense. For migrants’ households it’s an insurance and an additional income to supplement on-farm activities.
The challenges of migration
There is quite a lot of evidence on economic gains of migration with little or no emphasis on social gains. Recent studies however indicate that migration into cities could result in; delayed marriages, deferred child birth, affects education, and emotional and psychological stress on migrants. From the two migrants, Poko has gained financially and remits back to his family members, however, he has lost socially because he is unable to marry something he would have done had migration not occurred:
“In my community, a man of my age should have a wife by now but here I am not married. I only work for my family not my welfare. Where I sleep, is too small to accommodate two people. In my community, people expect that a migrant like myself should have a better place to sleep so I can have a good woman to marry”
Poko’s statement underlines what migrants can potentially lose because of migration.
The stories of Poko and Edem raise points about the social counterfactuals of migration. Fewer studies have explored how migrants and their households would have fared had migration not occurred. Most studies focus on monetary measurement of welfare impacts of migration with little or no focus on social counterfactuals.
The Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana in collaboration with University of Sussex, UK study on “Migration into Cities in Ghana: An Analysis of the Counterfactual” examines whether (and by how much) rural-urban migrants and their households have gained in real income and welfare terms from their migration. The study focuses on both economic counterfactuals (e.g. gains/losses in terms of income, employment, assets accumulation) and social counterfactuals (e.g. gains/losses in terms of marriage, child bearing, family formation, education etc.)
The findings suggest that on average households lose from migration. However, this is not an experience shared by all households: better off households actually gain, while poorer households are more likely to lose. Also migration to cities has affected marriages, timing of first birth, education and psychological status of migrants. Thus, the findings suggest that not everyone may gain from migration and that it may be better for some people to remain behind at the origin.
Two policy briefings from the study are also available for download
Migration to Cities in Ghana: Economic benefits to Migrants and their Households
Social Benefits and Losses of Migrating into Cities in Ghana