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How do Migration and Urbanization Bring About Urban Poverty in Developing Countries? Research Paper


Urbanization is the increase in the urban share of the total population. A report given by The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that urbanization has rapidly increased in Africa and Asia since the year 2000 (UNFPA, 2007).

The report says this population will duplicate by the year 2030 and many of the new urbanites will be poor. Urbanization has been found to contribute to poverty while on the other hand being a solution to it. In addition, it has been found to create and solve environmental problems.

The trick is in exploiting the possibilities and reaching a balance before the problem gets out of hand (UNFPA, 2007). Once the problem gets out of hand, the repercussions may adversely affect the economy of a country.

This will hinder development, which is every country’s desire. The major cause of urbanization in developing countries is rural to urban migration.

Migration refers to the movement of people from one area to another for different reasons. When there is a high rate of rural to urban migration, there is pressure on the limited resources in the urban centers. This eventually leads to high poverty cases in cities as the government tries to distribute its resources (Ibid).

This research paper is going to analyze the relationship between migration, urbanization, and poverty. The research question is; how do migration and urbanization contribute to urban poverty in developing countries?

Urbanization in developing countries

In most developing countries, infrastructure is centralized such that the best amenities are at the urban centers. High and diversified populations characterize these. Urban centers offer the best education facilities, hospitals, industries and job opportunities.

Cities have a wide market potential as they have several shopping malls owned by local and foreign investors. This offers comfort and convenience as all one needs are easily accessible.

Urban centers are also able to provide a wide range of services to its residents in terms of sanitation, transportation, recreation, housing and cultural activities. Industries, factories, governmental and non-governmental companies are set up within cities.

These offer employment opportunities that attract people from rural areas. There is rich cultural diversity in urban centers and therefore much exposure. Cities offer an informed comfortable life that is full of opportunities (Samers, 2010).

The rural areas only capitalize in agriculture and this often with low returns due to the poor market prices in towns. Inability to find a suitable market for the farm products leads to losses with adverse economic effects to the farmer. Poor and traditional farming methods result in low productivity leading to low quality harvests.

With the competition from imported farm products, these do not stand a chance in the market. They have a sparse population with poor infrastructure in most cases. The quality of life is relatively low as compared to the urban life. Rural areas comprise of majorly one ethnic group and therefore lack exposure to other cultures.

Life here is relatively less competitive and there are less development opportunities. The quality of education offered is low and may not match what employers look for. To realize a better life, these people move to urban areas in search of education and job opportunities leading to urbanization (Martin, 2008).

Urbanization may boost a country’s economy as it shifts focus from agricultural production to other types of goods and services. These include services like banking, information technology and electronics. These enlarge the opportunities for small scale and large-scale business ideas.

It also gives room to local and international investments, as there is need for development. Urbanization comes about because of massive movement of people from rural to urban areas within a country or across countries.

It can also result from natural increases in population through a high birth rate and a low death rate. Initially, the population growth is an advantage for the local government (Mohanty, 1993).

In an era of industrialization, this means availability of cheap labor as the demand is high. Increase in population means a better market for international and internal investors. The living standards of people rise as they get better paying jobs. There is rapid development of a town following urbanization.

The government ensures the security of an urban center as it hosts several people. Better infrastructure and social amenities are set up to provide efficient and fast services. Urbanization is therefore a good step towards development (Martin, 2008).

Overtime, though, urbanization can lead to adverse effects. For example, urbanization contributes to alterations in social and economic structures of a country. This is because it strains a city’s capacity to provide amenities like education, healthcare, transportation, sanitation, housing and physical security.

The urban poor find themselves in downtown areas where they reside in old, rundown buildings, substandard housing and empty stores. Some may even end up homeless due to the high living standards.

Thus, slums are set up within cities to accommodate the urban poor. Poor hygiene, diseases, high productivity, crime, congestion and the utmost poverty characterize these (Bilsborrow, 1996).

Due to the strained resources, the urban poor end up in social problems like crime, vandalism and unemployment. Their children end up in the streets as beggars and if not curbed this brings about generational poverty.

Massive sprawl arises in form of increases in traffic, crowded schools, increased expenses, air pollution and water pollution. This culminates in urban poverty. Many residents invest in the city’s suburbs in search of quite, safe and expansive neighborhoods leading to expansion of the cities.

Adverse environmental changes accompany urbanization. This includes climate and global change due to the massive pollution from industries, factories, automotives and individuals (Martin, 2008).

Migration in developing countries

Urbanization and migration are related in that the latter brings about the former. Migration refers to the long-term relocation to a new region outside one’s original community. Migration can be internal or international.

Internal migration involves movement of people from rural to urban centers, or urban to rural areas within the country of origin. International migration involves long-term relocation to another country (Harris, 1970). Migration occurs due to two main factors categorized as push factors and pull factors.

Push factors are those adverse conditions in the place of origin that force one to relocate. These could be adverse environmental conditions like famine, drought and floods. Insecurity in the place of origin due to ethnic clashes may force individuals to migrate.

Such factors could lead to internally displaced people to take refuge in different communities within their countries. In cases where there is insecurity in a country, people take refuge in neighboring countries. Refugees flee from domestic and international conflicts based on race, nationality, religion and politics.

Poor social amenities like hospitals, schools, transport and sanitation can influence people’s choice to relocate. High cases of unemployment and few social opportunities also lead to migration.

Other push factors include primitive conditions, discrimination and loss of wealth, death threats and poor chances of marrying (Cohen, 1996).

Pull factors are those positive conditions that draw people to new places. These include better environmental conditions, better infrastructure, exposure, and better income and employment opportunities. Family links and better chances of marrying have also act as pull factors.

International migration involves labor migrations, refugees and undocumented migrants. There are rules governing international migration such that this migration can be legal or illegal. Migration can also be voluntary or involuntary depending on the prevailing circumstances.

Individuals who migrate to live in another country are called immigrants while those leave their country to reside in a different country are called emigrants (Ibid).

There are different theories of migration. An example of such theories is the neoclassical theory. According to this theory, wage differences in two geographical localities can contribute to labor migration.

This depends on labor demand and supply. People move to areas of high demand and low supply as this offers higher wages (Cohen, 1996).

Dual labor market theory suggests that pull factors are the major reasons for migration. This pull arises due to a need for intensive, low skill, well paying labor in developed regions. Another theory, the new economics of labor migration, involves social entities as a reason for migration.

For example, a household may send a member to a developed region to upgrade their living standards by sending remittances. The relative deprivation theory gives importance to the awareness of in-come differences between neighboring regions (Cohen, 1996).

Rural to urban migration leads to the demand of urban amenities exceeding the supply. Overcrowding and congestion is the natural result of this migration. There is a lot of pressure on social amenities as a result and increase in social vice. Poor housing leads to development of slums within the urban centers.

The rural areas, on the other hand face brainwash as its best-educated members relocate. Young, energetic and well-educated rural members are more prone to job migration. Their migration implies an adverse impact on the development of rural areas as it slows down and stagnates over the years.

Agricultural productivity decreases as the rural areas are neglected and the country as a whole suffers, as this is the main source of revenue in developing countries (Samers, 2010).

Urban poverty in developing countries

As discussed already, migration and urbanization lead to poverty in urban centers due to strained resources. The poor in urban centers find it difficult to secure decent living conditions. This is especially true for female rather than male residents due to gender disparity in developing countries.

Women and children face more challenges as they are more vulnerable and they have few casual job opportunities. Women also face social stigma due to their living standards as compared to men.

They have inadequate shelter in insecure neighborhoods exposed to hazards. Accessibility to social amenities is limited and this exposes them to diseases and accidents (Urban Age, 2009).

The urban poor are not represented well in governments with selfish political leaders who do not associate with the poor. This is because they have little time to air their grievances as each struggles to make ends meet. In search countries, there are two classes of people namely: the rich and the poor.

The line between the two classes is so thick that neither can cross over. Reproduction rate is high among the poor, as they do not have money to spare in medical attention. Without family planning measures, they end up with many children which strains their resources further.

The sources of income for the urban poor are not constant as most of them are temporary casuals. This means it is hard to save enough for all the family needs. Children are likely to miss quality education and start working at a young age to help increase the family income (Urban Age, 2009).

Migrants do not necessarily find work in line with their qualifications. They know few or no people and are likely to take a long time fitting into the urban setting. In cases of illegal migration, they also face the challenge of hiding from the authority.

In cases of forced migration due, they may have little or no cash to help them settle. The desperation makes them choose any kind of work, probably menial, to sustain them.

The situation may not change due to low income and they resort to slum life, as this is relatively cheaper. This way, the urban poverty cycle gets rolling (Samers, 2010).


Rapid urban growth exerts enormous pressure on local capacities and leads to characteristic urban poverty. To solve this challenge, it is necessary to secure land for the urban poor. This aims at using poverty as collateral for obtaining formal credit to invest in home improvements and business investments.

This increases avenues for revenue to help fund public services and facilities. Further, it gives a good market to properties by reducing transaction costs.

The government buys the products from farmers at a competitive price and markets them on their behalf. This program also gives farmers and residents tenure security for informal urban settlements (Payne, 2011).

In an attempt to curb the challenges brought about by rural to urban migration and subsequent urbanization, the following policies seem to offer solution to the current problem. Provision of basic social amenities in rural areas enhances healthy living and exposure.

Improved infrastructure makes remote areas accessible and increases chances of development. Improved quality of education gives both rural and urban children an equal opportunity to excel in academics and compete in the job market.

There seems to be a need in decentralizing agro –buissiness and industries from urban areas to rural areas. This will help curb rural-urban migration (Mohanty, 1993).

Erection of government stores in rural areas that buy farm products at a competitive price from the farmers is a good move. It should also help to market the farmers’ products on their behalf. Embracing technological farming will increase productivity and subsequently offer good returns.

In addition, empowering youths in rural areas with entrepreneurial skills will facilitates business growth. All these strategies are likely to improve their living standards. All these will create equal opportunities in rural areas and decrease the need for migration to urban centers (UNFPA, 2007).

Information on reproductive health issues need to be readily accessible to the poor. This way, family planning measures will help curb natural population increases. The poor will give birth to children they are able to sufficiently support using their resources.

Gender equity and equality measures empower both men and women to realize their goals with no fear. Cities need to be planned with a long term and broad vision to efficiently utilize its space and promote sustainability.

Proper planning decongests cities, reduces traffic jams and avoids overcrowding. Environmental and ecosystem management is crucial in urban centers to avoid adverse environmental changes like global warming (Davis, 2007).

Community participation in development is another factor. For example, the Kenya Water for Health Organization is a Kenyan Non-governmental organization that provides water, health and sanitation through community participation.

Through these activities, it has been able to develop rural water, health and sanitation programmes. This in turn promotes gardening and other income generating activities for the residents (Mohanty, 1993). Development is therefore every person’s initiative.

Implementation of the right government policies coupled with public cooperation is a necessary tool for rural development.


Migration, urbanization and poverty are closely linked population aspects. Migration results in urbanization while urbanization results in poverty. The high rates of urbanization in developing countries lead to urban poverty. Urban poverty has adverse implications on the economy of a country.

For this reason, measures need be taken to avoid increasing urban poverty in developing countries. Implementations of government policies to that end will go a long way towards ensuring good urban centers in the future in developing countries. This may take years but it is worth the effort.

It also has the advantage of ensuring a country fully utilizes its human and material resources to better itself. Thus, the economy of such a country is sure to increase.


Bilsborrow, E. (1996). Migration, Urbanization, and Development: New Directions and Issues. New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Cohen, R. (1996). Theories of Migration: A Two-Sector Analysis. Cheltenham: Elgar Publications.

Davis, M. ( 2007). The Urban Climacteric. London: Verso.

Harris, J. & Todaro, M. (1970). Migration, Unemployment & Development: A Two-Sector Analysis. New York: American Economic Review. 60(1): 126-42.

Martin, G. McGranaham, G. & Montgomery, M. (2008). The New Global Frontier: Urbanisation,Poverty, and Environment in the 21st Century. London: Eartscan Publishers.

Mohanty, B. (1993). Urbanization in Developing Countries: Basic Service and Community Participation. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company.

Payne, R. (2011). Global Issues. New York: Pearsons Publishers.

Samers, M. (2010). Migration. New York: Routledge Publishers.

UNFPA. (2007). State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential for Urban Growth. Accessed from www.unfpa.org/public/publications/pid/408

Urban Age. (2009). Cities and Social Equity: Inequality, territory and urban form. London: LSE Publishers.

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1. IvyPanda. "How do Migration and Urbanization Bring About Urban Poverty in Developing Countries?" October 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-do-migration-and-urbanization-bring-about-urban-poverty-in-developing-countries/.


IvyPanda. "How do Migration and Urbanization Bring About Urban Poverty in Developing Countries?" October 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-do-migration-and-urbanization-bring-about-urban-poverty-in-developing-countries/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "How do Migration and Urbanization Bring About Urban Poverty in Developing Countries?" October 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-do-migration-and-urbanization-bring-about-urban-poverty-in-developing-countries/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'How do Migration and Urbanization Bring About Urban Poverty in Developing Countries'. 4 October.

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