International migration is preceded by cognitive and preparatory processes that unfold before any observable movement across borders. Migration scholars are increasingly analysing these processes, using diverse frameworks and perspectives that share a stepwise logic (Carling & Schewel, 2018; Koikkalainen & Kyle, 2016; van Naerssen & van der Velde, 2015; Willekens, 2017). Alongside the theoretical developments, there has been a surge in survey data on individuals’ desires, intentions or plans for migration. We refer to these constructs collectively as migration aspirations, as explained in greater detail in later sections.
In this paper, Maryam Aslany, Jørgen Carling, Mathilde Bålsrud Mjelva and Tone Sommerfelt comprehensively review the findings of published empirical research on the formation of migration aspirations. That is, they are interested in how individual factors (such as educational attainment or employment status) and contextual factors (such as the quality of public services or the levels of violence and insecurity) help explain who wants to leave and who wants to stay.
The paper is structured around a systematic review of survey-based research, supplemented with insights from ethnographic and qualitatively based research. This combined approach allows us to reflect on the underlying mechanisms and enables a discussion that also acknowledges determinants that are hardly touched upon in the survey-based literature and represent possible gaps. We synthesize findings on 32 determinants from 49 comparable articles that use surveys of the general population. In doing so, we use innovative visual representations that convey the diversity of findings.