Skip to main content


Are unequal societies more migratory?

Article metrics

  • 460 Accesses

  • 3 Citations


Are unequal societies more migratory? The position of this paper is: not necessarily, it depends on the type of inequality. By proposing horizontal and vertical inequality between and within ethnic groups as separate drivers of migration, we hypothesize that heightened emigration is a consequence of vertical inequality and feelings of individual relative deprivation, whereas people facing horizontal inequality feel rather strongly about collective relative deprivation, making non-migration more likely. Consequently, inequality and relative deprivation can work in both directions, i.e. either as a driver or a barrier of migration, depending on whether social comparisons are made within or between ethnic groups. Analysis of emigrant stocks for a large set of developed and developing countries show that countries with higher levels of horizontal inequality across ethnic groups show a lower emigration propensity whereas vertical within-group inequality seems rather a reason for people moving abroad. The analysis also shows that the relative size of these behavioural responses depends on people’s educational levels which largely reflect their exit opportunities.


  1. Bhandari, P. (2004). Relative deprivation and migration in an agricultural setting of Nepal. Population & Environment, 25(5), 475–499.

  2. Borjas, G.J. (1987). Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants, American Economic Review, 77(4), 531–53.

  3. Brewer, M.B. (1991). The social self. On being the same and different at the same time. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 475–82.

  4. Brown, R. (2000). Group Processes: Dynamics Within and Between Groups. Oxford: Blackwell.

  5. Cederman, L.-E., Weidmann, N.B., & Gleditsch, K.S. (2011). Horizontal Inequalities and Ethno-Nationalist Civil War: A Global Comparison. American Political Science Review, 105(3), 478–95.

  6. Cederman, L.-E., Wimmer, A., & Min, B. (2010). Why Do Ethnic Groups Rebel? New Data and Analysis. World Politics, 62(1), 87–119.

  7. CEPII (2012) GeoDist. Retrieved in January 2013 from

  8. Czaika, M. (2012). Internal versus international migration and the role of multiple deprivation: some evidence from India, Asian Population Studies, 8(2), 125–149.

  9. Czaika, M., & de Haas, H. (2012). The Role of Internal and International Relative Deprivation in Global Migration. Oxford Development Studies, 40(4), 423–442.

  10. Czaika, M., & Vothknecht, M. (2012). Migration as cause and consequence of aspirations, IMI Working Paper, No. 57, University of Oxford.

  11. De Haas, H. (2010). Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective. International Migration Review, 44(1), 227–264.

  12. Docquier, F., & Marfouk, A. (2006) International Migration, Remittances and Development, In: C. Ozden and M. Schiff (eds), Palgrave Macmillan: New York.

  13. Ellemers, N., van Knippenberg, A., & Wilke, H. (1990). The influence of permeability of group boundaries and stability of group status on strategies of individual mobility and social change. British Journal of Social Psychology, 29(3), 233–246.

  14. Freedomhouse. (2009). Freedom in the World. FreedomHouse: Washington, DC. Retrieved in Januray 2013 from

  15. Gibney, M., Cornett, L., & Wood, R., (2011) Political Terror Scale 1976–2008. Retrieved in January 2013 from the PTS website:

  16. Gurr, T. R. (1993). Minorities at Risk: A Global View of Ethno-political Conflicts, Washington DC: Institute of Peace Press.

  17. Hirschman, A.O. (1970). Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  18. Horowitz, D.L. (1985). Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  19. Kawakami, K., & Dion, K. L. (1993). The impact of salient self-identities on relative deprivation and action intentions. European Journal of Social Psychology, 23(5), 525–540.

  20. Liebig, T., & Sousa-Poza, A. (2004). Migration, self-selection and income inequality: an international analysis, Kyklos, 57(1), 125–146.

  21. Massey, D. S., Arango, J., Hugo, G., Kouaouci, A., Pellegrino, A., & Taylor, J. E. (1993). Theories of International Migration: A Review and Appraisal. Population and Development Review, 19(3), 431–466.

  22. Mayda, A. (2009). International migration: a panel data analysis of the determinants of bilateral flows. Journal of Population Economics, 23(4), 1249–1274.

  23. Mayer, T., & Zignago, X. (2006). Notes on CEPII’s distances measures.

  24. McKenzie, D. & Gibson, J. (2010) The Development Impact of a Best Practice Seasonal Worker Policy, Washington, DC: World Bank.

  25. Nordhaus, W.D. (2006). Geography and Macroeconomics: New Data and New Findings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103(10): 3510–17.

  26. North, D. (1981). Structure and Change in Economic History. New York: Norton.

  27. Ortega, F., & Peri, G. (2013). The Effect of Income and Immigration Policies on International Migration, Migration Studies, 1(1), 1–28.

  28. Østby, G. (2008). Polarization, Horizontal Inequalities and Violent Civil Conflict, Journal of Peace Research, 45(2), 143–162.

  29. Østby, G. (2011). Horizontal Inequalities and Political Violence. PhD Dissertation, University of Oslo.

  30. Pettigrew, T. F., Christ, O., Wagner, U., Meertens, R. W., Van Dick, R., & Zick, A. (2008). Relative Deprivation and Intergroup Prejudice. Journal of Social Issues, 64(2), 385–401.

  31. Pfaff, S., & Kim, H. (2003). Exit-Voice Dynamics in Collective Action: An Analysis of Emigration and Protest in the East German Revolution. American Journal of Sociology 109(2), 401–444.

  32. Quinn, M. A. (2006). Relative deprivation, wage differentials and Mexican migration. Review of Development Economics, 10(1), 135–153.

  33. Runciman, W. G. (1966). Relative Deprivation and Social Justice: A Study of Attitudes to Social Inequality in Twentieth-Century England. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  34. Sen, A. (1992) Inequality Re-examined. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  35. Stark, O. (1984). Rural-to-Urban Migration in LDCs: A Relative Deprivation Approach. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 32(3), 475–486.

  36. Stark, O. (2006). Inequality and migration: A behavioral link. Economics Letters, 91(1), 146–152.

  37. Stark, O., Micevska, M., & Mycielski, J. (2009). Relative poverty as a determinant of migration: Evidence from Poland. Economics Letters, 103(3), 119–122.

  38. Stark, O., & Taylor, J. E. (1989). Relative Deprivation and International Migration. Demography, 26(1), 1–14.

  39. Stark, O., & Taylor, J. E. (1991). Migration Incentives, Migration Types: The Role of Relative Deprivation. The Economic Journal, 101(408), 1163–1178.

  40. Stark, O., & Yitzhaki, S. (1988). Labour Migration as a Response to Relative Deprivation. Journal of Population Economics, 1(1), 57–70.

  41. Stewart, F. (2002) Horizontal Inequalities: A Neglected Dimension of Development, QEH Working Paper, No. 81, University of Oxford.

  42. Stewart, F., Brown, G., & Mancini, L. (2005). Why Horizontal Inequalities Matter: Some Implications for Measurement, CRISE working paper, No. 19, University of Oxford.

  43. Stewart, F. (ed.)(2008). Horizontal Inequalities and Conflict: Understanding Group Violence in Multiethnic Societies. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

  44. Tajfel, H. (1982). Social psychology of intergroup relations. Annual review of psychology, 33(1), 1–39.

  45. Tilly, C. (1978). From Mobilization to Revolution. New York: McGraw-Hill.

  46. UNDP (2012) Human Development Index, United Nations: New York, retrieved in January 2013 from

  47. Vogler, M., & Rotte, R. (2000). The effects of development on migration: theoretical issues and new empirical evidence. Journal of Population Economics, 13(3), 485–508.

  48. Walker, I., & Pettigrew, T. F. (1984). Relative deprivation theory: An overview and conceptual critique. British Journal of Social Psychology, 23(4), 301–310.

  49. Walker, I., & Mann, L. (1987). Unemployment, relative deprivation, and social protest. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13(2), 275–283.

  50. Walker, I., & Smith, H. J. (2000) Relative Deprivation: Specification, Development, and Integration, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  51. Wright, Stephen C. (2001) “Strategic collective action: Social psychology and social change.” Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Intergroup processes (2001): 409–430.

  52. Worldbank. (2012). World Development Indicators. Washington, DC: World Bank.

  53. Wouterse, F. (2008) Migration, Poverty, and Inequality: Evidence from Burkina Faso, Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.

  54. Yitzhaki, S. (1979). Relative Deprivation and the Gini Coefficient. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 93(2), 321–324.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Mathias Czaika.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark


  • international migration
  • inequality
  • relative deprivation