Working Paper

Building Demography into Migration Research: Population Change and the Latent Demand for Migration in 21st Century Europe

Published 1 January 2010 / By Alessio Cangiano

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Demography has not played a prominent role in the research on the causes of international population movements. At the same time, the main theoretical and empirical studies analysing causal processes triggering international migration flows have largely drawn from economic and sociological concepts and approaches, considering demographic dynamics only as contextual push factors operating in the countries of origin by putting a strain on labour markets. Yet contracting and ageing demographics in receiving countries, by shaping both domestic labour supply and demand, can also represent powerful drivers of a demand for migrant labour. By conducting a critical review of the literature, demographic data and projections, this paper looks beyond aggregate workforce trends, pointing to the importance of considering the demographic and employment pathways of specific socio-demographic groups (e.g. younger and older workers, inactive women) and bringing out labour demand in long-term care as a single, influential force driving significant migration flows in contemporary Europe. This paper also analyses the intersection of future demographic trends with possible labour market developments, discussing the extent to which different factors are likely to affect the causal links between demographic shortages and the demand for ‘replacement migration’ across EU countries.


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