A pull factor is a force that attracts migrants toward a particular destination.
In the context of human geography studies, pull factors are often seen as being opposed to push factors which are forces that drive individuals away from their current location.
Common examples of pull factors include the climate, natural resources, economic opportunities, and quality of life. For example, many people move to cities in search of better job prospects. Others may relocate to coastal regions for the milder climate.
Understanding pull factors can help us to Better predict population movements and plan for the future.
Examples of Pull Factors
People may take into account the healthcare system in a nation before making the choice to migrate there. For instance, the United Kingdom often ranks high on surveys that measure the quality and accessibility of its health care system. This can be a strong pull factor for people who are looking for better medical care.
Education is another important pull factor, especially for families with children. Many countries have excellent educational systems, which can lure migrants to those nations.
Furthermore, people who are studying at university may choose to migrate in order to access the best universities. Many governments offer visa programs for students, which are often a pathway to residency.
This is often referred to as the ‘education export industry’. This industry is enormous in some advanced countries that attract wealthy Asian students. For example, Australia’s education export industry is worth about $38 billion per year.
3. Employment Opportunities
The availability of jobs is often a key factor in people’s decisions to migrate. If a person feels that they can’t find a job in their current location, they may look for opportunities elsewhere. This is especially true for young adults who are looking to start their careers.
This is one of the major causes of intraregional migration, which is migration from rural to urban areas that is often a pilgrimage of young adults seeking work. They head into the city seeking jobs in the large inner-city firms which will promise higher wages and better career prospects than jobs in rural towns.
4. Political Stability
Many people flee countries that are politically unstable (making it a push factor) and seek politically stable climates where they know their lives won’t be upturned by coups or other forms of political turmoil.
For example, people fleeing Myanmar, a nation where a military coup took place in 2021, might look to neighboring countries that are relatively stable. In South-East Asia, they may look toward Singapore, or further afield to Australia or Canada.
5. Economic Stability
When a country experiences economic instability, it often leads to an increase in emigration. This is because people are looking for a place where they can have a better life and find jobs that will allow them to support their families.
For instance, the recent global recession led to large waves of migration as people sought to escape countries with high levels of unemployment. In the Mediterranean, many people fled Libya and Syria as those nations’ economies collapsed due to war.
These emigrants will look to nations that are historically stable economically, such as Western European countries.
6. Social Stability
In general, people would prefer to live in harmonious communities with low crime rates and few protests or flashpoints. Thus, a city that doesn’t have a reputation for protest, homelessness, or other social issues, is desirable for migrants.
An internal migrant choosing to move to a new city in the United States, for example, might choose to avoid cities like Portland and Seattle which have faced significant riots in recent years, and pivot toward sleepier midwestern cities like Minneapolis.
7. Cultural Factors
A migrant may want to move to a country with a similar culture to the one they are coming from.
For example, I had a class on pull factors in a seminar I taught once, and it was notable that my Muslim students placed Dubai much higher on their list of desirable cities than my non-Muslim students. The students discussed how their view of this city was influenced by their sense that it was a wealthy Muslim city that matches their ideals more than the western cities on the list.
Other migrants may be attracted to a country with a different culture than their own. This is often the case for immigrants who are looking for new experiences and want to learn about other ways of life.
8. Natural Beauty
Some migrants are drawn to a certain country because of its natural beauty. This might be mountains, beaches, jungles, or other landscapes that are appealing to the eye.
For example, many people from Europe move to Australia because of the country’s stunning beaches and vast expanses of land. Similarly, I personally moved to Vancouver, Canada, because I loved the rocky mountains.
Many people also choose to migrate because of the climate or weather in a certain country.
For example, American snowbirds often migrate to Florida during the winter months because the weather is warmer there than in their home states.
Similarly, when choosing between Mexico and Canada, a person would likely take into account the fact Mexico can be very humid in summer but mild in winter, while Canada is freezing in winter and mild in summer.
10. Proximity to Friends and Family
Some people migrate to be near family and friends. When migrants follow one another around the world, it’s called chain migration.
Some countries have specific visa schemes to help facilitate this sort of migration. For example, the United States has the family-based green card, which allows immigrants to sponsor their close family members for residency in the United States.
When migrating, people assess whether they can afford to live in the country they’re headed. Similarly, internal migrants might need to consider moving to a more affordable city within a country.
In the United States, for example, many internal migrants have moved to affordable cities like Austin TX and away from more expensive cities like Los Angeles.
12. Safety and Security
Many people migrate because they feel unsafe in their home countries. This could be due to political instability, war, or crime.
For example, many Venezuelans have migrated to Colombia because of the high levels of violence and food shortages in their home country.
In this instance, the lack of security in Venezuela is a push factor while the relative security in Colombia is a pull factor.
13. Quality of Life/Standard of Living
People also often consider the quality of life of a place when they look at where to move. This is a subjective measure, but may include things like the number of national holidays, accessibility or services, and the cultural work/life balance of the place they’re going.
For example, many people from developing countries migrate to developed countries because they offer better opportunities for their families. Similarly, people might migrate out of the city in order to own a bigger house and deal with less traffic.
A country that shares a common language with a migrant might be more appealing to them.
This is especially true if the person exclusively speaks a lesser-spoken language.
For example, a Portuguese person who doesn’t speak English is less likely to move to the UK or USA. Their options are much more limited. In particular, they’re likely to find Brazil to be at the top of their list of places to emigrate toward.
15. Religious Tolerance or Freedom
People who are highly religious will need to move to a country where they can practice their religion without discrimination or impediments. They may like to consult a religious freedom index to find a country that is desirable for them.
Others may choose to move to a place where their religion is in the majority, allowing them to practice the religion openly.
16. Gender Equality
Women, in particular, may take into account gender when moving countries. Rankings of gender equality often cite Scandanavian countries at the top of the lists of countries with gender parity.
Similarly, parents of girls might want to take into account whether their daughters will be able to access education services and get jobs without gender discrimination.
17. Pay Rates and Labor Conditions
Generally, the developed world has stronger labor rights and pay rates than developing nations like China and Thailand. This can make migrating to developed countries more desirable.
But even within developed nations, labor rights vary significantly. For example, in the USA, it’s common for people to get 2 weeks of paid leave per year. In Europe, that’s closer to 4 to 6 weeks of paid leave.
Other labor conditions might include paid sick leave, maternity leave, and rights to higher overtime pay rates.
A country’s status as a democracy makes it a more desirable place to live. Advanced democracies tend to face less corruption, ensure more rights to citizens, and have independent judiciaries. Of course, there are some exceptions, especially as some democracies slide into autocracy.
Nevertheless, many people every year flee autocracies and seek to settle in a safe democratic society.
19. Adventure and Excitement
Young people often move overseas to seek adventure. For example, many countries have youth mobility visa programs that allow young people to live and work in their countries for several years.
These programs bring in temporary workers in low-paid jobs, but also enable young people to explore new cultures and make friends from all over the world. They may travel to Canada to work on the ski slopes, the UK to get access to Europe, or Australia to spend summers on the beach.
20. Proximity to a Major City or Metropolitan Area
People often move to areas that are close to major metropolitan areas. This is because these places offer more job and entertainment options than smaller towns or rural areas.
For example, many people in the USA will migrate from rural parts of the country to large cities like New York City or Los Angeles. This is because there are more opportunities for work and recreation in these places.
There is even a type of migration called step migration where people move from rural places to cities via the suburbs. You can look at more examples of step migration here.
A migrant may also take into account the political ideology of a nation or region before moving.
For example, the United States has significant political polarization in different regions of the nation. Liberals may choose to live on the west and east coasts, while conservatives might find their ‘political tribe’ in the south.
Pull factors for migrants are factors that make a place desirable to move to. While many people experiencing forced migration (i.e. fleeing their homeland due to war or famine) don’t have much of a choice where to go, voluntary migrants often have the time to contemplate where to go. During this decision-making process, they look into a range of pull factors such as the climate, healthcare, job opportunities, and quality of life.
Pull factors can also change over time. For instance, an area that was once known for its rich natural resources may see its population decline as those resources are depleted. Similarly, a region that was once considered economically disadvantageous may become more attractive as new businesses move in and create jobs.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.