Choosing to Stay

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Far fewer people migrate than global disparities in wealth and well-being would lead us to predict, yet we know relatively little about why those who presumably have much to gain from migration prefer to stay in place. Critically, political and legal barriers to migration do not fully account for the unwillingness of this cohort to migrate out of their home countries. Research was conducted using data gathered through a survey from The Young Lives Project to examine why youth in Ethiopia, India, and Vietnam are choosing to stay near their homes rather than move to a different country.  

Methods and Results

This paper refutes the common claim that most young people wish to migrate out of their home countries. While it is generally true that people are more likely to move when they are young, age alone does not fully explain why youth move and why, in many cases, they choose to stay. This paper suggests that the concept of voluntary immobility and the factors that help create an environment where young people in these countries are choosing to stay near their homes needs to be investigated further. 

This paper highlights two main reasons for choosing not to migrate out of countries: a lack of desire and a lack of capability. Analyzing the data from the Young Lives Project, a longitudinal study on child and youth poverty funded by the UK Department for International Development, shows that among those who do not wish to leave their current locality (32% in Ethiopia, 36% in India, 60% in Vietnam), staying for family was their main motivation. A significant aspect of this survey is that these countries are majority rural societies with large agricultural sectors that have experienced notable gains in human and economic development since the 1990s, which allowed for the opportunity to gather data on the motivations of young people amid a period of social transformation pushed by modern development. It is surprising to see that there is a large percentage of this age cohort who desire to stay, but more research is necessary to explore this phenomenon further. 

Future research should focus on three elements: a more longitudinal survey of this cohort, further discussion of concrete plans in the lives of these potential migrants, and inclusion of pointed questions about their ability to migrate. The nuances that these additional studies would help form a more holistically complete understanding of voluntary immobility within young people globally. Such phenomena could have large impacts on global migration studies and shift common—but understudied—perceptions of why people choose to stay rather than leave. 



Kerilyn Schewel (Duke Center for International Development), Sonja Fransen (United Nations University)

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Economic Governance, Human Development, Climate & Sustainability, Migration, Economic Development, Africa, Global, India, Southeast Asia