Why do some people flee war, and others stay?

With the Syrian refugee population nearing 1.5 million, the question of what motivates people to flee violent conflict is more relevant than ever. It may seem like a pretty straighforward issue people flee the threat of violence — but other factors come into play.  A fascinating paper by Prakash Adikhari, a political scientist at Central ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

With the Syrian refugee population nearing 1.5 million, the question of what motivates people to flee violent conflict is more relevant than ever. It may seem like a pretty straighforward issue people flee the threat of violence -- but other factors come into play. 

A fascinating paper by Prakash Adikhari, a political scientist at Central Michigan University, argues using survey data from Nepal that economic factors are key to understanding what motivates refugees.

Specifically, he found that a one unit increase in the percieved threat of violence made respondents 8 percent more likely to flee their homes. But the presence of industry in their town -- a business employing 10 people or more -- makes people 19 percent less likely to leave. In addition, every category increase in income decreases the likelihood of displacement by one to two percent. 

With the Syrian refugee population nearing 1.5 million, the question of what motivates people to flee violent conflict is more relevant than ever. It may seem like a pretty straighforward issue people flee the threat of violence — but other factors come into play. 

A fascinating paper by Prakash Adikhari, a political scientist at Central Michigan University, argues using survey data from Nepal that economic factors are key to understanding what motivates refugees.

Specifically, he found that a one unit increase in the percieved threat of violence made respondents 8 percent more likely to flee their homes. But the presence of industry in their town — a business employing 10 people or more — makes people 19 percent less likely to leave. In addition, every category increase in income decreases the likelihood of displacement by one to two percent. 

In other words, economic opportunity may be a better predictor of whether people will chose to flee their homes than how much danger they percieve. (This doesn’t apply to people who’ve actually experienced violence, which was by far the most significant factor.)

Adikhari writes:

The results suggest that violent conflict is not the only factor affecting displacement decisions. Even when life is under extreme threat, multiple factors affect flight. These results, which provide a more nuanced test of the choice-centered approach to the study of forced migration, add significant value to our understanding of the causes of displacement. 

It would be interesting to see if these trends apply to other civil conflicts, particularly ones with more intense levels of violence than Nepal.

Via Monkey Cage, which is presenting a series of very relevant political science research projects that just happen to be supported by the NSF. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: War

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