Climate shocks and rural-urban migration in Mexico: exploring nonlinearities and thresholds

Abstract

Adverse climatic conditions may differentially drive human migration patterns between rural and urban areas, with implications for changes in population composition and density, access to infrastructure and resources, and the delivery of essential goods and services. However, there is little empirical evidence to support this notion. In this study, we investigate the relationship between climate shocks and migration between rural and urban areas within Mexico. We combine individual records from the 2000 and 2010 Mexican censuses (n = 683,518) with high-resolution climate data from Terra Populus that are linked to census data at the municipality level (n = 2321). We measure climate shocks as monthly deviation from a 30-year (1961–1990) long-term climate normal period, and uncover important nonlinearities using quadratic and cubic specifications. Satellite-based measures of urban extents allow us to classify migrant-sending and migrant-receiving municipalities as rural or urban to examine four internal migration patterns: rural-urban, rural-rural, urban-urban, and urban-rural. Among our key findings, results from multilevel models reveal that each additional drought month increases the odds of rural-urban migration by 3.6%. In contrast, the relationship between heat months and rural-urban migration is nonlinear. After a threshold of ~34 heat months is surpassed, the relationship between heat months and rural-urban migration becomes positive and progressively increases in strength. Policy and programmatic interventions may therefore reduce climate induced rural-urban migration in Mexico through rural climate change adaptation initiatives, while also assisting rural migrants in finding employment and housing in urban areas to offset population impacts.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to acknowledge the statistical office that provided the underlying data making this research possible: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). We express our gratitude to Joshua Donato and David Haynes for help with the construction of the spatial variables. Many thanks to the journal editors and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. We also express our gratitude to Rachel Magennis for her careful editing.

Contribution

RJN and JD designed the study and lead the interdisciplinary research collaboration. RJN and MB performed the statistical modeling and generated the figures and tables. JD and JTH developed the theoretical framing and performed background research. All authors jointly wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Raphael J. Nawrotzki.

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Funding

The authors gratefully acknowledge support from the Minnesota Population Center (#R24 HD041023), funded through grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). This work also received support from the National Science Foundation funded Terra Populus project (NSF Award ACI-0940818). DeWaard received additional support from the U.S. Consulate General Toronto to attend the Laurier Environmental Migration Workshop in Waterloo, Ontario, on January 21–22, 2016.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Nawrotzki, R.J., DeWaard, J., Bakhtsiyarava, M. et al. Climate shocks and rural-urban migration in Mexico: exploring nonlinearities and thresholds. Climatic Change 140, 243–258 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1849-0

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Keywords

  • Environment
  • Mexico
  • Climate change
  • Internal migration
  • Rural-urban migration