Causes and Consequences of Rural-Urban Migration in India

A Qualitative Study

Textbook, 2021

63 Pages



1. Introduction

2. Theories of Migration

3. History of Indian Migration

4. Concept of Rural-Urban Migration

5. Trend of Rural-Urban Migration in India

6. Causes of Rural-Urban Migration in India

7. Consequences of Rural-Urban Migration in India

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Migration is shift from a place of residence to another place for some length of time or permanently including different types of voluntary movements. It has great impact on economic, social, cultural and psychological life of people, both at place of origin and destination as well as of migration (Kaur , 2003). Similarly, Migration is defined as a move from one migration defining area to another, usually crossing administrative boundaries that was made during a given migration interval and involving a change of residence (UN, 1993). Apart from its spatial dimension, migration also implies the disruption of work, schooling, social life, and other patterns. A migrant is someone who breaks off activities and associations in one place and reorganizes their daily life in another place. The change in residence can take place either permanent or semi permanent or temporary basis (Premi, 1990). Internal migration involves a change of residence within national borders (Dang, 2005). Until 1951, district was the migration defining area (MDA), implying that a person was considered a migrant in India only if he or she has changed residence from the district of birth to another district or a state. Since 1961, data on migration have been collected by considering each revenue village or urban settlement as a separate unit (Bhagat, 2005).

Migration is the geographic movement of people across administrative/political boundaries with a permanent or semi­permanent nature of residence. As per the provision of right to the citizens of India by the constitution of India, the people of India are free to move anywhere in India in search of better opportunities or otherwise. Migration refers to the movement of an individual or family or group of persons from one place to another place with change in residence for a number of reasons like social, cultural, economic and noneconomic factors. Migratory movements are basically a product of social, cultural, economic and political and/or physical circumstances in which individuals or groups find themselves (Bhende and Kanitkar, 1982). Apart from being an important determinant of population change, migration is a major channel for the process of diffusion of ideas and innovations, and thus it is an important force of spatial change. From functional point of view migration is both a cause and effect of spatial and temporal variations and a main cause for changes in the organization of society. The areas from which the migration takes place, the areas to which the migrants go, and the migrants themselves never remain the same (Beaujeu-Garnier, 1966).

A person is considered as a migrant if birthplace is different from place of enumeration. In 1971 census, an additional question on place of last residence was introduced to collect migration data. Since then, census provides data on migrants based on place of birth (POB) and place of last residence (POLR). If the place of birth or place of last residence is different from the place of enumeration, a person is defined as a migrant. On the other hand, if the place of birth and place of enumeration is the same, the person is a non-migrant (Bhagat, 2005).

The core principle of migration theories is rationality. From the first law of migration (Ravenstein 1885), to Lewis (1954), Lee's (1966) and Harris-Todaro model (Todaro 1976 and 1977 and Harris and Todaro 1970), the rationale of migration evolves around regional disparities. According to Ravenstein's Laws of Migration (1875-89), most migrants travel short distance and with increasing distance the no of migrants decrease. Migration occurs in a series of waves or steps. Each significant migration stream produces, to a degree, a counter stream. Urban dwellers are less migratory than rural dwellers. The major causes of migration are economic. The Lee Model (1966) revised the simple ‘push-pull' model in two ways .It introduced the idea of intervening obstacles that need to be overcome before migration takes place. Source and destination are seen as possessing a range of attributes differently, depending on personal characteristics such as age, sex and marital status.

Lewis Model (1954) says the transformation from rural to urban is marked by two massive resource flows: the move of labour and a parallel move of food, to support the basic needs of those individuals no longer engaged in farming. The Lewis model tells that agricultural surpluses and labour must be transferred in tandem for industrial development to begin. Development is characterized by an ongoing move of labour and resources from a “traditional sector” in rural area to a “modern sector” in urban area. Ongoing capital accumulation in the modern sector provides the fuel for sustained transfers. Lewis argued that the traditional sector is characterized by surplus labour (a situation in which labour can be removed without loss in output). In principle, these permits, industrial development with unlimited supply of labour, at least until the surplus-labor phase comes to an end. But, theory does not discuss at all the deciding factors behind the move of labours from traditional sector in rural areas towards the modern sector in urban areas.

The classic theory of rural-urban migration is based on Harris and Todaro (1970).The main idea of the model is that the formal urban sector pays a high wage to workers. In contrast to the high wages paid in the formal sector, the informal urban sector and the rural sector have low wages. Migration in the Harris-Todaro model is then viewed as a response to the significant wage gap that prevails between the rural and formal urban sector. But, rural people simply migrates towards urban areas because of the actual wage difference, whatever extra they get in urban area adjusted with the cost of living there than the rural area. Apart from the above factor, there are so many other economic factors, which push them towards urban area (Kumari, 2014).

2. Theories of Migration

Several attempts have been made through researchers to explain migration in terms of various theories but these seem to be fragmented. Moreover, there is not a generally accepted theory that can explain international migration. The theories of international migration can be divided into two groups and they are classical migration theories that explain the commencement and consequences of international migration whereas the other group of theories explains the perpetuation of international migration.

- Classical Theories of Migration

The economic assessment of migration involves both the redistribution of labour and the search of opportunity. For instance Adam Smith, father of economics, viewed that labour migration is due to the imbalance in the labour market at different locations (Lebhart, 2005). However, the oldest theoretical approach for explaining the phenomenon of labour migration is based on Ravenstein's laws of migration in which he highlighted the concept of ‘search of opportunity' as the main motive for migration (Ravenstein, 1889). Subsequently, a variety of studies has been proposed to explain the commencement and causes of international migration. There are six prominent classical theories of migration and they are reviewed in this section. They are: 1. The Neo- Classical Theory, 2. The Situation Oriented Approach (Push-Pull Hypotheses), 3. The World System Theory, 4. The Dual Labour Market Approach, 5. Liberal Choice and Structural Theories; and 6. The Theory of Development in a Dual Economy. These can briefly be summarised as follows.

1. The Neo- Classical Theory

According to the neo-classical theory of migration, migration of labour is due to the differences in the real wages between the countries and migration of labour brings equilibrium in the international labour market which wipes away the wage differences between the countries. The neo- classical theory explains both the macro and micro aspects of migration. The neo-classical macro theory of migration dates back to Hicks (1932). According to this theory, the unbalanced distribution of capital and labour at the macro level causes inequality in wages and living conditions and leads to migration. The migrants move towards the places where employment, wages and other economic conditions are more favourable to them giving high chances of ending the differences in wages and living conditions between places. The neo­classical micro approach of migration (The Theory of the New Economics of Migration) considers not only the labour market but also the conditions of other markets such as the capital market or unemployment insurance market as reasons for migration. In addition, this theory also considers household strategy behind migration as the actual drive of migration is to change the source of income rather than maximize the income. This theory also emphasises the importance of financial transfers of migration in the context of sociocultural changes. Moreover, this theory also helps to understand why individuals of a particular community are potential migrants. It also observes that poor people are less inclined to migration compared to the rich due to the high costs of migration (International Labour Organization, 2003).

2. The Situation Oriented Approach (Push- Pull Hypotheses)

This approach was formulated by Lee (Lee, 1966)5 for explaining the unpredictable nature of migrants. According to him, the push-pull factors are the most important factor in migration. Here, the push factors are the negative factors in the place of origin while the pull factors are the positive ones in the destination place. In addition to this, he suggests that the decision to migrate and the process of migration are influenced by factors associated with the area of origin, destination, intervening factors, personal factors and fluctuations in the economy.

3. The World System Theory

Wallerstein propounds the world system theory in which he attempted to link the development process of the countries with international migration. The theory asserts that the root cause of migration is the existence of unequal development between the central developed countries and the peripheral agricultural countries. According to his theory, the central countries will develop by exploiting the peripheral countries. Besides, this theory realises that migration is the natural consequence of globalisation and market penetration across national boundaries (Wallerstein, 1974). The theory also observes that globalisation, cheap air transportation and growth of multinational companies etc. lead to the enhancement of migration (Joly, 2000).

4. The Dual Labour Market Theory

According to this theory, the labour markets of industrialized countries have a dualistic structure - skilled workers (primary segment) and unskilled workers (secondary segment). The skilled workers are well­paid whereas the wages of unskilled workers in the secondary segment are low so that the local workers avoid secondary jobs. The employers do not pay higher wages to local workers to do the unpleasant jobs because they want to maintain wage differentials between the two segments of jobs. As a result of labour shortages at the bottom of the job hierarchy, employers are compelled to recruit the unskilled foreign workers, who do not plan to stay permanently, but accept the secondary job more easily since it pays them more income ((Piore, 1979; Stalker, 2000).

5. Liberal Choice and Structural Theories

According to Ghosh, international movement of labour is caused by economic factors and he presents two models of migration theories. They are classical theories (liberal choice) and core- periphery conflict (structural) theories. According to the classical theories, workers move from low wage countries to high wage countries and this results in the efficient use of labour and narrows down the inter- country wage gaps.

However, according to the structural theories, migration widens wage and income disparities as a result of the differences in the economic and political situations of countries (Ghosh, 1996).

6. Dual Economy Model of Development

As per the dual economy model labour migration has a key role in the economic development of a country. Thus, according to this theory, migration between countries is mainly due to differences in wages and employment opportunities. Moreover, this considers migration as an individual decision for income maximisation. Hence, the flow of migration over a long period of time is due to the prolonged disequilibrium that exists between the countries (Lewis, 1953; Tadaro, 1980).

- Perpetuation Theories of Migration

The perpetuation theories of migration emphasize kin and friendship networks as important factors in migration. The interpersonal ties connect migrants, former migrants and non-migrants in origin and destination that encourage circular migration and reduce migration risk (Tilly and Brown, 1967). There are a few theories that explain the continuation of migration out of which the two most relevant theories from the point of view of the present study are the Migration Networks Theory and the Theory of Cumulative Causation.

1. The Migration Networks Theory

This theory considers migration as a network process in which migrants help each other by communicating with the close friends and family members. They exchange information, provide financial assistance and even help to find a job for the migrant. It is asserted that such interaction facilitates migration by reducing the costs and risks. However, there are instances of migration through illegal means by friends and relatives that results in hardships and migrants become victims of violence and exploitation (IOM, 2003).

2. The Cumulative Causation Theory of migration.

The cumulative causation theory of migration is propounded by Massey and this theory states that continuance of migration is due to the intermingling of migrants with other persons of the origin. The theory also asserts that migration is sustained itself by creating more migration (Massey, 1990). On the basis of the theories reviewed above, it can be concluded that there is not a common theory or principle that can explain different types of migration. However, these theories establish diverse factors, instincts and causes behind migration. As such, these theories expose important factors and features of emigration from Kerala to the Gulf countries.

3. History of Indian migration

Human mobility in India, particularly in rural to urban areas is neither a new nor a recent phenomenon. During the British colonial period the Royal Commission on Labour 1931 described that the rural labourers from India were pushed not pulled to the industries because the cities have few attractions for them (Davis,1951). Since the dawn of human civilization, migration has been motivated primarily by economic considerations. For instance, in the early stage of human history, people migrated/ moved to collect natural products and for hunting purposes. Thus, in the pastoral stage they moved towards greener pastures and in the agricultural stage they sought after fresh and fertile lands (Sinha and Ataullah, 1987). More than five decades ago, Kingsley Davis observed that the population statistics of India has relatively less mobile and their mobility is concerned in region specific because of economic social and cultural reasons (Davis, 1951). Zachariah (1964), finds that, population of India was not very mobile but generally remained attached to its villages. Based on the observation from many studies Zachariah strongly recommended that the reasons of less mobile of Indian habitants is linguistic problems and that might be a factor inhibiting the movement of people from one state to another (Zachariah, 1964).

During the British colonial rules in India, people migrating with an objective to fulfil the requirements of capitalist development both in India and abroad. After independence or early period of independence when there were a number of industries took place in various parts of the country, movement of the people has intensified. However, the researchers have not given much emphasis to further understanding and study on the trends and patterns of historical Indian migration. Paucity of comprehensive data might have discarded many researchers in understanding of these issues. Number of studies (Zachariah, 1963 & 1964, Bose, 1977; Nair and Narain, 1985; Premi, 1990; Singh, 1998; and Bhagat; 2005) found that volume of interstate migration in India was low, but asserted the fact that about one third of Indians population enumerated outside their place of birth indicating the importance of migration as a major demographic process in India.

Research interest has been grown up on migration after decline of fertility and mortality (Battistella et al., 1996). In India Census has been providing migration information since, 1872. However, low mobility among Indian population has been observed based on place of birth definition (Bhatia and Sabagh, 1980). In all decennial censuses since 1981, the proportion of person enumerated in a state other than those of their birth has consistently been shown to be around three percent (Bose, 1967; Mehrotra, 1974). However, Census of India does not provide lifetime migration and return migration statistics. Nevertheless, it has been providing rural urban migration rate. It has also scope of to analyze inter-state and intra-state migration, and the result indicates that the difference is higher in the rural areas than in urban areas (Kundu, 1986). These distinction can be taken into account the territorial boundaries crossed by the migrants.

As we know, the population of Indian sub-continent has less mobile in nature. However, with improvement of infrastructure and communications accompanying the economic development, the increase of population mobility was expected. In fact, most of them are cluster in informal sectors, particularly in textile, construction and agriculture sectors. On the other, there is a diverse category of workers in the informal sector including causal labourers and irregular migrants who take up a variety of jobs. The diversification in subsistence strategies of labour households due to mobility and the qualitative impact of outmigration has led to increased staying power and higher reservation wages. In addition, a small proportion of labour migrants are able to acquire the means to improve their reproductive base in rural economy.

We also know that, migration is a dynamic process and it encompasses diversified forms of temporal and geographic mobility. There are numerous types and forms of migration. It may be in the form of temporary or permanent migration or it may be a seasonal to year-long migration (Asfar, 2000). Recent village level studies across different parts of India shows a sharp increase in population mobility including long-term and temporary migration as well as commuting migration, especially from drought-prone locations. Among this type of migration study, several studies focused on rural to urban migration in India (Khan, 1986; De Haan, 1997; Sharma, 1997). In past, labour out­migration has played a stabilizing role in poor regions and now apparently it accelerates to change in production relationships. The major characteristics of migrant labour are elastic supply, long and flexible hours of work and low wage costs. Migrant labourers are easily disciplined and its presence has a disciplining effect, on local labour and dampening effect on local wages. Most of the labour migration to the urban areas is absorbed by informal sector.

In India, interstate migration is higher in comparison to international migration, observed by Singh (1995) and Chopra (1998). They also observe that some states are traditionally sending state whereas others are treated as receiving state. For instance, Punjab has been demanding labour for various agricultural activities through pull factors (getting gainful employment opportunity) from the neighbouring states Uttar Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh , since decade longs (Sidhu and Rangi, 1998). Apparently, impact of migration on source and destination areas are treated as two sides of the same capitalist dynamic. One hand it promotes mobility thereby putting upward pressure on wages, even in restricted demand for labour in poor regions. Other hand it also is absorbing labour under conditions favourable to capitalists. Migration process in India is as old as the India civilisation. It is an essential component of economic development and social and political organization. Indians present path of development has created regional inequalities, while the developed areas have created a demand for labour, and in turn backward areas have become the suppliers of labour. For instance, the agricultural and 'industrial developed states such as Punjab has created an additional demand for labour force which has been met by the migrants labour hailing from backward states like Uttrar Pradesh, Bihar, Himanchal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Odisha (Chnad et al., 1998). More developed states like Punjab and Haryana have a higher percentage of interstate migration compared to the other less developed states, which shows that the mobility of the people depends on the level of development of the state. Studies, further, argues that, movement in Indian migrants is precisely followed different stages. In the first stage, rural people migrate to nearby small towns and become oriented to the urban life styles. This shift resulted in various social and economic constraints faced by them in the nearby towns. Unemployment is the most important and powerful push factor that plays a unique role to push the people from rural area with an aspiration of urban employment opportunities. Although, increased hardships the process of transfer of surplus labour from rural to urban places. However, migration is considered as the survival strategy for the poor and the landless labourer families (Kundu, 1986).


Excerpt out of 63 pages


Causes and Consequences of Rural-Urban Migration in India
A Qualitative Study
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
causes, consequences, rural-urban, migration, india, qualitative, study
Quote paper
Sibsankar Mal (Author), 2021, Causes and Consequences of Rural-Urban Migration in India, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Causes and Consequences of Rural-Urban Migration in India

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free