Ravenstein’s 10 Laws of Migration, Applicability & Criticism

By Denver Kunaka Last edited:November 9, 2020

Table of Contents

source: wikipedia

Migration is often seen as a complex phenomenon. Many e.g, Everett Lee 1966, Todaro 1969, Massey 1993) tried to theorise migration patterns, how people move and why people move. In 1885 George Ernst Ravenstein, born in Frankfurt Germany, formulated laws of migration based on the observations he made in the UK and Europe.

    1. Most migrations are short distanced.
    2. There is a process of absorption, where a batch of people moving out from one area is replaced by another coming in.
    3. There is a process of dispersion, which is the inverse of absorption.
    4. Each migration flow produces a compensating counter-flow.
    5. Long-distance migrants usually go to one of the great centers of commerce and industry.
    6. Urban dwellers are less migratory than those from rural areas.
    7. Females are more migratory than males in their local area but males migrate longer distances more.

Other Additions:

  1. Economic factors influence migration
  2. Migration occurs in Steps, i.e there’s no one big leap from e.g village to capital city, rather there’s a gradual(step) movement; from village to town, then to the city and then to the metropolitan city and so on.
  3. The economically active group from 20 to 34 migrate more.

Applicability and Criticism of Ravenstein’s laws

Ravenstein’s law still has some significance in the modern world. For example, most migrations are for economical reasons e.g job seeking, rural dwellers are still more migratory than urban settlers and economically active adults are more migratory. Short distance migrations are are still common, e.g Mexico to USA, N. Africa to Europe, Middle East to Europe & Zimbabwe to S. Africa.

However, some of Ravenstein’s law are flawed and has limited applicability in the modern world. The advancement in technology such as transport has rendered some of the laws obsolete.

Firstly, the idea that migrants are replaced by another batch moving in is not always true nowadays. For example, many migrants from Zimbabwe to South Africa in 2008 were not replaced by other migrants moving into Zimbabwe. Instead, majority were dispersing from Zimbabwe. The same can be observed were most Mexican migrants to USA are dispersing than they’re being replaced.
Perhaps this law applies or applied to some remote tribes that replaced each other in search of fertile lands.

The law that females are more migratory than males in their local area but males migrate longer journeys more is fading out nowadays. Although internally, females migrate more, but today, females can also be seen migrating longer distances which is facilitated by improved transport systems and woman emancipation.

The idea that migration occurs in steps is starting to be obsolete. Most recent migrants especially rural ones looking for employment don’t follow steps, but instead migrate to that metropolitan area were they know employment is available.

His theory was based in England and Europe and failed to apply to other regions.