4 Major Theories Of Migration: Explained with Examples


The process of migration has been accompanied by the advancement of Industry and Urbanisation. It is not a new phenomenon, people migrate to different places for any reason. It began after the human settlement. The primitive hunting and gathering people migrate to new places in search of food and water. But the modern migration is a result of Industrialisation.  The movement of people from one place to another place permanently or temporarily is known as migration. Migration is a process that comes after industrialization and Globalization. The industrial factories are mainly set up in urban, suburban areas. Because of the development of an industrial firm and increase in the demand for labour the people began to move from their rural or village areas to urban or towns. Linking of regional, national, international areas through trade and commerce also increases the rate of migration. The reason for migration is vast. People can migrate to have better education, better lifestyles, to improve their livelihood. There are social, economic, political, and demographic causes for migration. Poverty, unemployment are some social causes for migration. War, terrorism, inequality, are some political causes for migration. Natural calamities like earthquakes, landslides, tsunami, are some demographic causes for migration.


Social scientists and also natural scientists look into the causes and factors of migration. Social scientists look into the social factors of migration. On the other hand he natural scientists look into the natural causes for migration. Both scientists developed their theories regarding migration. The following are some major theories of migration.

  1. E.G Revenstein’s Laws Of Migration

Ravenstein developed his theory of migration by observing the migration to the United Kingdom. Under the Law of Migration, Revenstein explains 3 basic reasons or categories to occur migration.

  • Reason

There must be a reason to migrate. That reason can be an ideal motive or your job opportunity or any technological leading reasons. For example, a person may migrate due to a job opportunity he get from a new firm. This job opportunity is the reason to migrate for that particular person.

  • Distance

How far is the person willing to migrate. It is self-explanatory, for example, a person’s willingness to migrate to what extend. That is how far the person is willing to migrate. For example, person A may be willing to migrate to the International level, But person B may be willing to migrate within their home country.

  • Migrant characteristics

These characteristics may be a person’s gender. This one is also a determining factor, gender, race, income, family background, educational qualifications are some characteristics. For example, for a female, it is always more difficult to migrate to another place. And it is difficult for some people to migrate to specific places where racial discrimination exists.

All these three categories he explains either moves in streams or steps. So there are two ways for migration pattern work. Streams that mean a kind of mass movement. The second is movements in steps which means rather than moving directly from the rural area to some metropolitan areas, you jump in steps. That means you move from a rural area to a town, then to a city and finally move to a metropolitan area.  So it is a kind of step-by-step movement. You’re trying to improve yourself as you move around. So he explains migration can either occur by streams or steps. He also pointed out that rural dwellers are more migratory than urban dwellers.

In his theory, he explains eleven laws. The major ideas of his law are;

  1. Migrants move mainly over short distances; for example, in the case of North American workers from the region of Mexico people will prefer to move to the southern part of the united states rather than moving directly to Canada for job opportunities or work. Those who go longer distances go for industry and commerce.
  2. Most of the migration occurs from agricultural to industrial areas. The people from rural agricultural areas move to industrial areas to have higher wages and better living conditions.
  3. Large towns grow more by migration than by natural increase. For instance, Mumbai is a large town in which the population increase is due to the migration of people to Mumbai rather than the natural increase by birth or marriage.  
  4. Migration increases along with the development of industry, commerce and transport. That is migration is increased in the suburban areas, transportation routes. These are the major centres for migration.
  5. The major reason for migration by him was the economic cause. Low wages in the agricultural sector, poverty, unemployment are some economic causes.
  6. Mostly migration occurs from rural areas to urban areas.
  7. According to him migration occur step by step rather than stream.
  8. Females migrate often shorter distances compared to males. Male prefer mainly international migration.
  9. He also opines that each migration stream produces a counter stream.

2. Push-Pull Theory by Everett Lee

The push-Pull theory was proposed by Lee. Lee explains there are two reasons for people to migrate. Either there is a push factor or a pull factor. Push factors are existing in the area you live. It may be geographic factors, poverty, natural calamities, war etc. it is many factors that motivate people to move out. The pull factors are the destination area that attracts the people to move there.  That may be the good economy, higher living standards, good job opportunities. All those that come in between the push and pull factors are intervening obstacles. These intervening obstacles can be in form of mountains, sea, river or economic barriers, ethnic barriers, cost of travel, and other social challenges or political barriers.

Most of the migration patterns are from the region of origin to the destination. That is, from the push area to the pull areas.

The drawback of this theory is, it only focuses on the desire of people and ignores their ability. Even if the person is poor even if you have a push factor you might not move out of the region. Therefore, this theory is only focused on individual desire rather than ability (poverty). All these push and pull regions have different factors. These factors can be positive or negative. Comparatively the positive factor in pull areas are higher than in push areas. There would also be some neutral factors in both the regions. For example, when India became independent many Muslim people migrate from India to Pakistan and many Hindu people migrate from Pakistan to India. This is because they believe that their area is not suitable for their living. After all, there is a notion that exists among them India is a Hindu dominated country and Pakistan is a Muslim dominated region. For Muslim From India, Pakistan is their pull region; and for Hindus, India is their Pull region and Pakistan is their Push region.

This theory is mainly focused on four characteristics. Firstly, the characteristics of push regions, secondly the characteristics of pull regions, thirdly the characteristics of the nature of intervening obstacles, and finally the characteristics of people or the ideology of people. 

3. Gravity Model

The gravity model of migration is based on Newton’s Law of Gravitation. The gravity model explains that you have the population of region one multiplied by the population of region two, divided by the square of the distance between the two.  The larger areas have more ability to attract and the attraction could decrease with a smaller increase in the separation. If the separation increases the small attraction would be much higher. But the attraction would be much less if there is a smaller increase in the separation between the two regions. Placer closer has greater attraction and large places attract more ideas and people. The model explains that distance is the main obstacle. In this model distance is a continuous cardinal variable that is it varies based on the quantity or how many people. It is the factor that affects this gravity model. For Instance, If we consider Mumbai, New York, and London; New York and London are large areas with higher attraction. And people may migrate to New York to London or London to New York because the separation is smaller. These two places are closer than Mumbai. In case of Mumbai, the separation is higher.

An improvement to the gravity model was the Intervening Opportunities by Stouffer. He explains that the number of trips that a person is willing to make is directly proportional to the number of destination opportunities and it is inversely proportional to the intervening opportunities. That means if you have higher intervening opportunities your number of trips would decrease. For example, I need to buy a dress, there are two options: I can move from my house which is located at point A to the city centre which is point B. However, I have garment shops in between. If there are more intervening opportunities (garment shops), my probability of trip to the city centre might decrease. And this probability is directly proportional to the number of destination opportunities. However, this theory was modified by Schneider.

4. Zelinsky Migration Transition Model

This transition model was based on or linked with the demographic transition model. In this model, he is trying to explain the various stages of migration.  And he pointed out the 5 stages of migration.

  • Pre-modern traditional Society

This is the first stage of migration proposed by Zelinsky. This is the society before the advent of urbanization took place. So there are no migrations. There is Zero natural increase in the rate of migration. It was a pre-urbanization phase, with classically no migration. For example, migration due to urbanization was not there in traditional societies.

  • Early Transitional Society

This is the second stage of migration. An early transitional society focused on the movement of the people. This movement was mainly focused on overseas movement, so inter-national migration was the main focus. It also explained a massive migration from the countryside region of rural to the city centre. The rural to urban migration was the main focus of the second stage. They migrate from agricultural livelihood to industrial lifestyle. For example, as urbanization began the people migrate to cities or urban centres in search for job oppurtunities. Therefore, rural to urban migration is higher in the second stage.

  • Late transitional society

Here in the third stage, there exists mainly urban to urban migration. There also have rural to urban migration. But the urban to urban migration superseded the rural to urban migration. That was the main phenomenon under stage three. Overseas migration predominant in stage two was decreased during stage three significantly. As urban centers emerge rapidly and advanced in every sphere, the people began to migrate to urban centres only. Because it is near to their workplaces with high living standards and necessities.

  • Advanced society

This society has vigorous migrations from one city to another city or within city migration. And there is also have urban agglomeration.  That is in this stage there have a huge amount of urban to urban migration. And there has been a significant decrease in rural to urban migration. During this stage, we also have counter urbanization that started.  That means there exists an extreme level of moving in and moving out.

  • Future Superadvanced society

This is the last stage and it talks about intra urban migration all the migrations are located between and within the cities themselves. Because the people don’t want to migrate to rural places because of low job opportunities there.

Although, migration has different reasons and factors we cannot accept only one theory as perfect. All the theories of migration have its drawback and benefits.

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Hi, I’m Ashitha Mary K.L. I have post-graduated from Mahatma Gandhi University in 2021. I have completed my graduation and post-graduation in Sociology from St. Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, Kochi, Kerala. I’m a content writer since 2019. Interested in writing and reading. I have also had a certificate in Healing with the Arts course from the University of Florida. Interested in writing related to society. Currently working as a content writer in Sociology Group.