Environmental degradation and out-migration: new evidence from Nepal

Pratikshya Bohra, Princeton University
Douglas S. Massey, Princeton University

Although the concept of “environmental refugees” was introduced in the mid-1980s and remains quite popular in many quarters, there is relatively little empirical work demonstrating the existence and nature of a connection between environmental change and human migration. In this study we contribute to this literature by updating and expanding on recent work done in Nepal using data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study. We use event history data to model local, internal, and international migration as a function of environmental deterioration at baseline while controlling for social, economic, and demographic variables that prior work has shown to affect population mobility. We find a strong and consistent relationship between the likelihood of undertaking a local move and population pressure (measured by neighborhood density), deforestation (indicated by rising times required to collect fodder and firewood), and declining agricultural productivity. We also find that the environmental effects on local migration are more prevalent for women than for men. We found little evidence that environmental deterioration promoted migration outside of the local district, either to other districts in Nepal or to international destinations, though increased time to collect firewood was associated with a higher probability of men leaving Chitwan for other countries or other districts in Nepal. In general, our results suggest that the kind of gradual environmental deterioration studied here is more associated with local than distant population mobility.

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Presented in Session 105: Population, mobility and resources

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