MIGNEX Policy Brief

What are the ‘root causes’ of migration?


The term ‘root causes of migration’ is fuzzy and contested but has been widely used since the 1980s. We provide a precise definition of the ‘root causes of migration’, examine how they work, and discuss whether the concept is useful.

By Jessica Hagen-Zanker, Jørgen Carling – Published on 07 December 2023
Key takeaways
‘Root causes’ typically represent hardships that are important to address in order to improve people’s lives, regardless of their effects on migration.
Managing migration by ‘tackling the root causes’ can be ethically and politically flawed because it rests on the idea of migration as a problem to be solved.
It is also unlikely to work because ‘root causes’ make up only part of the drivers of migration, and even have contradictory impacts on migration.

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Cite this publication

Hagen-Zanker, J. and Carling, J. (2023) What are the ‘root causes’ of migration? MIGNEX Policy Brief. Oslo: Peace Research Institute Oslo.