Forced Migration, Reluctant Migration, and Voluntary Migration

Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused about 10% of the entire state of Louisiana's population to migrate to other states. NOAA

Human migration is the permanent or semi-permanent relocation of people from one location to another. This movement may occur domestically or internationally, and can affect economic structures, population densities, culture, and politics. People either chooses to migrate (voluntary), are made to move involuntary (forced), or are put in situations that encourages relocation (reluctant).

Forced Migration

Forced migration is a negative form of migration, often caused by persecution, development, or exploitation.
The largest and most devastating forced migration in human history was the African slave trade, which carried 12 to 30 million Africans from their homes and transported them to various parts of North America, Latin America, and the Middle East. Those Africans were taken against their will and forced to relocate.

The Trail of Tears is another pernicious example of forced migration. Following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, tens of thousands of Native Americans living the Southeast were forced to migrate to parts of contemporary Oklahoma ("Land of the Red People" in Choctaw). Many tribes traversed across as many as nine states on foot, resulting in insurmountable deaths.

Forced migration is not always violent. One of the largest involuntary migrations in history was caused by development. The construction of China's Three Gorges Dam displaced nearly 1.5 million people and put 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages underwater.

Although new housing was provided for those forced to move, many people were not compensated fairly. Some of the new designated areas were also less ideal geographically, not foundationally secure, or lacked agriculturally productive soil.

Reluctant Migration

Reluctant migration is a form of migration in which individuals are not forced to move, but do so because of an unfavorable situation at their current location.
The large wave of Cubans who legally and illegally immigrated to the United States following the 1959 Cuban Revolution is considered a form of reluctant migration. After the arrival of Fidel Castro, many Cubans sought asylum overseas due to fear of an impending communist government. With the exception of Castro's political opponents, most of the Cuban exiles were never forced to leave, but many decided it was in their best interest to do so. As of today, over a million Cubans reside in the United States, with the majority living in Florida and New Jersey.

Another form of reluctant migration is the internal relocation of many Louisiana residents following Hurricane Katrina. After the calamity caused by the hurricane, many people decided to either move further from the coast or out-of-state. With their homes destroyed, the state's economy in ruin, and sea levels continuing to rise, many people reluctantly left.

At the local level, a change in ethnic or socioeconomic conditions usually brought on by invasion-succession or gentrification can also cause individuals to reluctantly relocate. A white neighborhood that has turned predominately black or a poor neighborhood turned sophisticated can have a personal, social, and economic impact on longtime residents.

Voluntary Migration

Voluntary migration is migration based on one's free will and initiative. People move for a variety of reasons, and it involves weighing options and choices. Individuals who are interested in moving will often analyze the push and pull factors of two locations before making their decision. The strongest factors influencing people to voluntarily move are the desire to live in a better home and employment opportunities. Other factors contributing to voluntary migration includes change in life's course (getting married, empty-nest, retirement, etc), politics (from a liberal state to a conservative state, states that recognize gay-marriage, etc.), and individual personality (suburban life to city life).

With our intricate transportation infrastructure and high per capita income, Americans have become some of the most mobile people on earth.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 37.5 million people aged 1 and older changed residences, or 12.5% of the population. 69.3% of all movers stayed within the same county. 16.7 % moved to a different county in the same state, and 11.5% moved to a different state. Unlike many underdeveloped countries where a family might live in the same home their entire lives, it is not uncommon for Americans to move multiple times within their life. Parents might choose to relocate to a better school district or neighborhood following the birth of a child. Many teenagers choose to leave for college. Recent graduates may go where their career is. Marriage might lead to the purchase of a new home, and retirement may take the couple elsewhere, yet again.

When it comes to mobility by region, people in the Northeast were the least likely to move, with a move rate of just 8.3% in 2010. The Midwest had a move rate of 11.8%, the South 13.6%, and the West 14.7%. Principal cities within metropolitan areas experienced a population drop of 2.3 million people, while the suburbs experienced a net increase of 2.5 million.

Young adults in their twenties are the most likely age group to move, while African Americans are the most likely race to move in America.


Getis, Arthur. Introduction to Geography 13th edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Science 2009

United States Census (2011, May 23rd) Census Bureau Reports Housing is Top Reason People Moved Between 2009 and 2010. Retried from: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/mobility_of_the_population/cb11- 91.html

BBC News China (2012, April 18th). China's Three Gorges Dam may displace another 100,000. Retried from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-17754256

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Zhou, Ping, Geography Contributing Writer. "Migration." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/voluntary-migration-definition-1435455. Zhou, Ping, Geography Contributing Writer. (2017, March 3). Migration. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/voluntary-migration-definition-1435455 Zhou, Ping, Geography Contributing Writer. "Migration." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/voluntary-migration-definition-1435455 (accessed January 21, 2018).