Monday, 4 September 2017

A doctoral student’s journey with Migrating out of Poverty

In the summer five years ago, while I was writing up my Master dissertation, I received an email from the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium offering me a studentship. I accepted gratefully and today I am looking at a completed PhD thesis on internal migration in Brazil and Ghana as well as on a long list of skills and experiences gained during my work with the team.

Migration forms part of life for many people in developing countries, but questions remain about modern patterns of internal migration beyond rural-to-urban movement and the impacts on receiving communities as well as on the households that stay behind. In my dissertation, I investigated these questions through the lens of an economist. The thesis comprises three essays that utilise household data and apply econometric methods for the analysis.

In the first paper, the focus is on Brazilian workers who move out of metropolitan cities to smaller towns. Documenting that as many people move out of the mega cities as into them, I find that high housing costs in the big cities appear to drive the migration decision. Migrants earn relatively more, or at least as much, in the small towns as in the cities once rent prices are accounted for and they prefer smaller destinations close to their origin and within their state of birth.

The high mobility of the Brazilian population raises the question of how the arrival of migrants in a new location affects economic and social factors there. The arrival of internal migrants is associated with an increase in local homicide rates, but only if the destination labour market has a small informal sector and/or if it had very high crime in the past. These findings point at the role that local labour market structures play for the integration of migrants, whether internal or international.

The third essay turns to repeated patterns of migration and their consequences for origin households. Together with Dr Julie Litchfield, Team Leader of the Quantitative Research in Migrating out of Poverty, we documented different migration patterns in rural Ghana using data collected there in 2013 and 2015 by the Centre for Migration Studies (CMS). Migration is a repeated event within these households, family members move and others move a few years later. We found that new migrants are more likely to be from a younger generation, they face lower migration costs, and only few of them remit. There seems to be no effect on a household’s asset index when a new migrant moves. We concluded that the different nature of migration of new migrants implies neither an economic gain for the household nor a loss. The reason for the former is that the migrants remit less or not at all and the reason for the latter is that migration becomes less costly with prior experience.

Aside the important financial contribution the consortium has made to my PhD, working as part of the Sussex team was an enriching experience filled with great opportunities. I was able to follow the process of collecting a household survey from the design of a questionnaire through the training of enumerators to the verification of the data. I was involved in the data cleaning and further data analysis for several working papers, for example in Bangladesh (RMMRU), Ghana (CMS) and South Africa (ACMS). During this process I grew in confidence thanks to the trust put in me by the team. For example, I was granted the opportunity to travel to the partners of ACMS in South Africa and CMS in Ghana to discuss the data and research results. Most of all, I appreciated to work in a multi-disciplinary team. The quality and diversity of research presented at the final conference this March summarized the importance of looking at the topic of migration through various lenses in order to understand it better. The consortium impressed and excited me to continue to do so.

Today I write this blog from Rome, where I have started a post-doctoral position in the Research and Impact Assessment Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN organisation. The Fund’s projects are geared towards rural development and the topic of migration is recognized as an integral part of this process. I get the chance to contribute the experience gained during these past years of my work with Migrating out of Poverty, and new topics await me, such as seasonal migration within the rural transformation process. Throughout all these new challenging research agendas, I look forward to future collaboration with Migrating out of Poverty and its partners!