Youth Migration From Rural Areas: Impact and Strategies for Retention

A range of factors push people away from rural areas. These include natural disasters that directly displace rural residents and forms of environmental degradation that lower the profitability of the natural environment and agriculture.

Many scholars of late modernity have portrayed those who stay behind as inhabitants of traditional backwaters, detached from social change. However, interview data from Youth Migration counties reveal a more complex picture.


Migration has profound impacts on households and communities. It increases incomes for the migrants and their families, which can then be used to invest in agriculture or non-agricultural activities. Remittances can also allow households to overcome liquidity constraints and make productive investments, such as better equipment or inputs. These investment in agriculture can have long-term effects on agricultural productivity, as they improve the efficiency of farming practices and increase yields, or may even lead to the introduction of labor-saving technological innovations (e.g., Deininger and Jin, 2005).

These effects are complex. In addition to household-level economic gains, there are often negative spillovers, including reduced school enrollment and decreased household food security in rural areas. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that remittances can mitigate these negative effects by supporting household consumption, improving farm management practices, and providing informal insurance. This is especially true when households invest in housing, which has a direct positive impact on household welfare and can serve as collateral to finance other productive investments.

Households must make a series of decisions before they can migrate, including whether to move and why. Consequently, the factors that determine these decisions vary across countries and cultural contexts. This paper takes a unique approach to understand the specific determinants of select migration decisions by examining data from nationally representative surveys in seven countries, focusing on youth.

The first set of explanatory variables examines the individual characteristics that influence migration decisions. These include age and education level. In general, those who are older and those with higher levels of education are more likely to migrate than their peers. In addition, the propensity to migrate is higher among women than men.

Wealth is another important determinant, though the relationship differs across countries. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, wealth is a positive predictor of migration while in Nigeria and Nepal it is a negative predictor. The propensity to migrate is positively correlated with per capita household consumption in three countries and negatively correlated in the other four, suggesting that reducing poverty may help reduce migration.

Finally, family factors are also important determinants of migration decisions. In particular, those with children are more likely to migrate than their counterparts without children. This is a result of the fact that households with children are able to generate additional returns from off-farm work that can offset losses associated with migration.


Between the ages of 15 and 24 years, young men and women must make a variety of decisions about their futures, including whether to remain in school or work, what type of education they pursue and who they marry or live with. These decisions influence the trajectory of their lives and, in turn, shape the socioeconomic development of their communities. These choices may also lead to migration, both within and across countries.

Scholars have analyzed the reasons for youth migration in various ways. One perspective argues that human capital theory suggests that migrants move to invest in their education and attain better labor market outcomes (Guo 2009; Mykerezi et al. 2014). Another argument focuses on household wealth, which influences the capacity to migrate by determining whether or not a family can afford the costs of a college education.

In addition to economic factors, the motivations for youth migration may vary by gender. For example, men may be more likely to leave rural counties and villages to find work than women. This can be due to the fact that they are more willing to take risks and accept a job offer that pays higher wages than they could earn in their home county or village, or because males have greater access to financial support from relatives living abroad.

Another factor is the perception that the rural economy is declining and not providing opportunities for young people to live a comfortable life. In this context, it is important for rural leaders to promote a balanced form of development that addresses the needs of both urban and rural areas. The main challenge for reducing the rate of rural population loss is to provide economic opportunities that will attract and retain young people.

Many scholars have portrayed rural-to-urban migration as a key feature of late modernity, in which locality and kinship are no longer the primary bases for social ties that bind. This narrative ignores the positive aspects of migration from rural to urban areas, such as an infusion of new ideas and experiences that help revitalize low-amenity rural regions.


When young men and women transition from adolescence to adulthood, they have many decisions to make about their lives. These include whether to move away from their home village and, if they do, where to go. They may also decide to continue their education or pursue a job opportunity. These choices have consequences for their households, their communities and their country.

While many of these changes are rooted in individual factors, policies have a major role to play in influencing their trajectory. For example, a change in the monetary value of a student’s diploma can significantly alter their career trajectory and their choice of a profession. In addition, the presence of economic development programs that offer attractive incentives can encourage youth to stay in their rural hometown.

These incentives are crucial to stemming the flow of young people out of rural counties, as they have a direct impact on population growth and development. However, these policies must be complemented with an approach that promotes circular migration as a new model of youth mobility.

While the prevailing narrative is one of constant youth out-migration, it is important to understand that some rural places have much to offer to young people and are able to attract and retain them (Bjarnason and Thorlinson 2006; Gibson and Argent 2008). These communities are not only attractive to those who want to get a good education or pursue an exciting career in a large city. They are also attractive to those who wish to remain close to their family and the natural environment.

In their interviews, returnees reflected on why they chose to settle in their respective counties and what attracted them to the region in the first place. Several participants described their goals in life, which included having a significant relationship, starting a family and finding stable employment. They also emphasized the importance of financial success and making their parents proud.

In general, returning students have a positive impact on their hometowns and villages because of the contributions they make to local businesses and services. For example, they open restaurants, real estate agencies, insurance companies, hospitals, banks and schools. They can also fill jobs in the agricultural sector or take over family businesses, thereby creating more jobs in the community.


The conventional narrative about youth migration is that rural areas are losing young people and that the resulting brain drain has significant economic and social costs. However, the reality is that some counties do attract young people and that return migrants can play a key role in reviving low-amenity rural communities.

One strategy for retention is providing new types of livelihood opportunities. Developing an ecotourism economy, for example, could offer young people the opportunity to earn income while preserving the landscape and natural resources they cherish. Encouraging investment in vocational training and promoting rural-urban partnerships can also help to provide new employment opportunities for young people.

Another strategy is investing in family-friendly rural amenities. For example, providing high-speed internet can appeal to millennials and offer them a chance to connect with their families, particularly when they are working away from home. Other investments could include providing opportunities for new career paths, such as community and social services.

In the longer term, strategies for retention will depend on addressing barriers to education and improving access to jobs. Increasing the number of higher-education degrees available in rural places may lead to greater employment opportunities for younger residents and reduce the pressure to leave. In addition, it is important to explore ways to retain college graduates who are not currently working in rural areas by addressing factors that influence their decision making. This includes examining the rural labor market job structure, students’ majors, and nonpecuniary goals and values that affect their choice to stay or to leave (Artz and Yu 2011; Estes et al. 2016).

Finally, a comprehensive study of the determinants of youth migration is needed. This study would test broad and specific hypotheses, including those relating to credit constraints, consumption, and rural-urban linkages, using nationally representative panel data on young people from seven countries. It is important to understand the mechanisms that drive youth decisions about migration, because those decision have far-reaching implications for rural-urban relations and community sustainability. Moreover, the chronic brain drain of talented youth from rural areas has exacerbated long-lasting geographic inequality in educational opportunities and is challenging for the sustainability of rural communities.