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Environmental Change and Out-Migration: Evidence from Nepal

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionMassey, Douglas S., William Axinn, and Dirgha Ghimire. 2007. "Environmental Change and Out-Migration: Evidence from Nepal." PSC Research Report No. 07-615. January 2007.

The concept of “environmental refugees” has been put forth to hypothesize a connection between environmental deterioration and out-migration. In this paper we test this hypothesis using data from Nepal. We operationalize environmental degradation in terms of declining land cover, rising times required to gather organic inputs, increasing population density, and perceived declines in agricultural productivity. Holding constant the effects of other social and economic variables, we find that population density is unrelated either to short- or long-distance mobility, but that moves within the immediate vicinity are predicted by perceived declines in productivity and land cover and increased time required to gather firewood. Long-distance moves are predicted by perceived declines in productivity, but the effect is weaker than in the model of short-distance mobility and even this effect is confined only to lower and non-Hindu castes. No other environmental characteristics affect the odds of making a distant move, thus casting doubt on the utility of the concept of environmental refugees in explaining interregional or international migration. Environmental deterioration mostly leads to short-distance moves within the immediate vicinity, affecting males and females in a manner consistent with Nepal’s gendered division of labor.

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