July 22, 2020 | Press Release

Cities in the Global South Grow due to Immigration from Abroad

It gets crowded in the cities of the Global South, like here in Mexico City. They´ve been growing for years, partly due to immigration from abroad. © iStockphoto.com/ferrantraite

Migration is a significant factor in the population growth of cities in the Global South. Many cities grow more through immigration from abroad than through births, deaths, or internal migration.

In 120 out of 377 cities throughout seven countries in the Global South, migration has a greater impact on population growth than births and deaths. “For a long time, the role of migration in the population growth of cities in the Global South was underestimated,” says Mathias Lerch, former researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock. In cities in the Global South, fewer children are born, and people live longer than they did mere decades ago. “This is why the influence of migration on the population composition of cities has grown,” adds Mathias Lerch.

The researcher evaluated census data and other demographic information for cities in Benin, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, Indonesia, and the Philippines. He examined migration in these seven countries over varying 10-year periods between 1993 and 2010 and published his study in Population and Development Review.

The larger the city, the more influential the immigration from abroad

For half of the cities the following applies: Immigration from abroad contributes more to population growth than internal migration; Cities in the Global South are therefore attractive at the international level. In general, the larger the city, the greater the role of immigration by people from abroad; The importance of internal  migration, usually from the rural population to the city, is therefore less significant. Additionally, more people are migrating from large cities to surrounding and less densely populated urban centers.

On the other hand, medium-sized cities benefit from influx from various regions such as surrounding areas, larger cities, and to a lesser extent, immigration from abroad. In contrast, gains from internal migration in smaller cities are often lost as a result of migration abroad. Cities therefore play a significant role in international migration in the Global South, both as places of origin and destination.

In 2015, almost half of the people in the Global South lived in cities, compared to 1990, when it was only 35 percent – underlining the significance of migratory movements. It is expected that the population in cities will continue to grow and that migration will play an increasingly important role.

Original publication

Lerch, M.: International Migration and City Growth in the Global South. Population and Development Review. 2020. DOI: 10.1111/padr.12344


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The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.