The influence of climate variability on internal migration flows in South Africa

Marina Mastrorillo, Rachel Licker, Pratikshya Bohra-Mishra, Giorgio Fagiolo, Lyndon D. Estes, Michael Oppenheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


This work investigates the impact of climate variability on internal migration flows in post-apartheid South Africa. We combine information from South African censuses and climatic data to build a panel database covering the waves 1997-2001 and 2007-2011. The database enables the examination of the effect of spatiotemporal variability in temperature and precipitation on inter-district migration flows defined by five-year intervals. We employ a gravity approach where bilateral migration flows are explained by climate variability at the origin, along with a number of geographic, socio-economic and demographic factors traditionally identified as potential drivers of migration. Overall, we find that an increase in positive temperature extremes as well as positive and negative excess rainfall at the origin act as a push effect and enhance out-migration. However, the significance of the effect of climate on migration greatly varies by migrant characteristics. Particularly, flows of black and low-income South African migrants are strongly influenced by climatic variables whereas those of white and high-income migrants exhibit a weak impact. We also argue that agriculture may function as a transmission channel through which adverse climatic conditions affect migration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-169
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Environmental migrants
  • Gravity models
  • Human response to climate variation
  • Internal migration
  • South Africa


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