Spatial Variation in the Migration-Environment Association: Innovation and Evidence from Rural South Africa

Lori M. Hunter, University of Colorado at Boulder
Stefan Leyk, University of Colorado at Boulder
Galen Maclaurin, University of Colorado at Boulder
Raphael Nawrotzki, University of Colorado at Boulder
Wayne Twine, University of the Witwatersrand
Barend Erasmus, University of the Witwatersrand

Scholarly understanding of human migration’s environmental dimensions has greatly advanced in the past several years, motivated in large part by public and policy dialogue around “climate refugees.” The research presented here advances current demographic scholarship both through the substantive interpretations and conclusions it allows and through its explicitly spatial approach to migration-environment. We examine temporary, cyclical rural South African outmigration as related to household-level availability of proximate natural resources. Such ‘natural capital’ is central to livelihoods in the region, both for sustenance and as fodder for market-bound products. The results demonstrate the association between environmental factors and outmigration is highly localized, varying from strongly positive in some subvillage regions to strongly negative in others. We explore the socio-demographic factors underlying this variation in migration-environment associations. The spatial methodologies applied here offer nuance unavailable within more commonly used global regression models, although also introducing complexity that complicates story-telling and inhibits generalizability.

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Presented in Session 49: Population and Environment