Reconstructing Trends in International Migration with Three Questions in Household Surveys: Lessons from the MAFE Project

By Schoumaker, Bruno; Beauchemin, Cris | Demographic Research, January-June 2015 | Go to article overview

Reconstructing Trends in International Migration with Three Questions in Household Surveys: Lessons from the MAFE Project


Schoumaker, Bruno, Beauchemin, Cris, Demographic Research


(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

There is a crucial lack of data for studying trends in international migration flows. This is especially true in developing countries, but to some extent also in developed nations. Census data allow estimating bilateral stocks of migrants for many countries (Parsons et al. 2007), but they give no direct information on migration flows3. Administrative statistics on immigration flows are mainly limited to developed countries, and they suffer from various imperfections (Poulain, Perrin, and Singleton 2006)4. Statistics on outmigration flows are even less common, and they are also seriously deficient (OECD 2008). As a consequence, reconstructing departure and return trends in most countries is not possible with the existing data. The lack of basic information on migration flows is in sharp contrast to the increasing importance of migration in the policy agenda of both sending and receiving countries (Jensen 2013).

Demographic surveys offer useful opportunities to collect original data on international migration (Jensen 2013; Kasnauskiene and Igoseva 2010; Bilsborrow 2007; Zaba 1987). The reconstruction of internal migration trends with survey data is relatively common (Beauchemin 2011; Piché, Gregory, and Lavoie 1984). However, measuring trends in international migration with survey data is less frequent. The Mexican Migration Project (MMP) was a pioneer in this regard (Massey 1987; Donato 1998), focusing on flows between Mexico and the USA. The MAFE (Migration between African and Europe) project5 also collected data to estimate trends in international migration from three African countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Senegal, see Figure 1), as well as trends in return migration. The general approach followed in these projects is to collect a few simple questions on migration in household surveys, and reconstruct trends in migration with event history models. The method consists in reconstructing trends in migration with retrospective information on the first migration (date and destination) collected on all surviving children of household heads. Such data can potentially improve the knowledge of levels, trends, and patterns of international migration. The availability of socio-demographic data (gender, education, etc.) may also allow richer descriptions of migration than with other data sources. By including such questions in existing surveys (Labour Force Surveys, Living Standard Surveys, Demographic and Health Surveys), data on international migration could be collected at a relatively low cost6.

The general objectives of this paper are to show how migration trends can be measured with only three questions in a household survey and to then evaluate the precision of the estimates and test how sensitive those estimates are to several methodological choices and assumptions. Three general issues are assessed: (1) whether including information on deceased children matters or not; (2) whether collecting data from household surveys or from the network module in biographic surveys influences the results; and (3) to what extent collecting data on only the first migration affects the estimates through 'filtering effects' (i.e., effects due to the fact that some migrations are neglected). The MAFE household and biographic data allow us to compare the results for three different contexts in which the patterns of migration (and thus the sensitivity to methodological choices) are potentially different.

After this introduction, the paper is divided into four parts. In the next part (part 2), we review some discussions about the collection of migration data in surveys carried out in origin countries, and we present the MAFE data. Part 3 of the paper presents the methodology used to compute trends in migration (first departure) and exposes the baseline results. Next, these results are contrasted with other approaches in order to assess the proposed methodology's sensitivity to various assumptions. …

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