Modern Economy, 2011, 2, 174-179
doi:10.4236/me.2011.22023 Published Online May 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ME
Seasonal Unemployment and Voluntary Out-Migration
from Northern Bangladesh
Mazbahul Golam Ahamad1, Rezai Karim Khondker2, Zahir Uddin Ahmed2, Fahian Tanin3
1Research Division, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka, Bangladesh
2Department of Economics, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh
3MSS in Economics, Shahjal a l University of Scie nc e a nd Technol o gy, Sylhet, Bangladesh
E-mail: {mg.ahamad, rkhondker50}, zahi,
Received December 3, 2010; revised March 12, 2011; accepted Marc h 28, 2011
This paper explores the major push-pull and self-selective factors of seasonal rural-urban migration during
the lean period using survey data from northern Bangladesh. Among all other factors, probit estimates reveal
that the choice of destination, per capita monthly food expenditure, availability of social safety net benefits
are affecting individuals’ decision of being seasonal migrant to a significant extent.
Keywords: Northern Bangladesh, Seasonal Unemployment, Voluntary Out-Migration
1. Introduction
The northern region of Bangladesh is a rather backward
part of the country owing to, inter alia, its near absolute
dependency on agriculture and almost non-existence of
other significant sources of employment. Accordingly,
rural-urban migration on temporary and voluntary basis
frequently occurs in quest of employment due to season-
al unemployment during the lean period from mid- Sep-
tember to mid-November [1]. Furthermore, the region is
also vulnerable to a wide variety of climaterelated shocks,
e.g. frequent flood and resultant crop damage, river bank
erosion, drought, etc. To reduce the risk emanated from
income fluctuations mainly caused by seasonal unem-
ployment, primary income-earners of many households
temporarily migrate to outside of their usual working
areas to diversified labor-intensive sectors of urban areas
to smooth out income flow [2-4].
The growing incidence of temporary out-migration is a
standard and voluntary coping strategy of the unem-
ployed poor households. Therefore, voluntary out-migra-
on can be, and indeed is regarded as a significant
risk-reduction strategy that explains the scale, duration
and effectiveness of in-built ‘push-pull factors’ leading
to voluntary outmigration [5]. The ‘push’ factors are
mostly associated with the declining opportunities in
agriculture, and ‘pull’ describes economic opportunities
in urban-based industry and services [6,7] and compara-
tive advantage to earn more in urban locations [8].
The objective of the study is to identify the major de-
terminants of rural-urban migration of the seasonally un-
oyed during lean periods. Finally, different policy inter-
ventions will be expl ored. T he major lim itati on of the st udy
is mainly related to sample size. But according to the rule
of thumb about sample size, it is likely to be acceptable.
2. Seasonal Unemployment, Rural-Urban
Out-Migration and Transformation of
Household In co me Patterns
During seasonal unemployment rural poor’s per capita
income falls. Many of the poor are concentrated in nor-
ern areas such as the districts of Kurigram, Gaibandha,
Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat and some part of Jamalpur dis-
trict [9] (Table 1). For the most part, migrants are pre-
dominantly young, male household head and with mar-
ginal land ownershi p.
Voluntary migrants are sometimes referred to as
‘economic migrants’. Furthermore, migration is ‘selec-
tive’ [5]. The reason behind this selectivity is that indi-
viduals respond diff erently to the prevailing factors ass o-
ciated with origin and destination areas. Reference [10]
point out that seasonal migration takes place as an op-
timal endogenous response to individuals’ comparative
advantages of costs, returns, and welfare maximization
and higher income opportunities which contribute to ur-
ban pull. Moreover, negative environmental conditions
consistent ly encourage out-mi gration [11].
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ME
2.1. Factor Affecting Seasonal Rural-Urban
Empirical evidence shows that northern districts in
Bangladesh are economically weaker and per capita
gross distr ict product of these regions are far below the
national average [12]. More than one-third of the
households in these areas face food shortage throughout
the year, and another one-third face temporary food
shortage during the lean periods due to higher inci-
dences of poverty compared to the rest of the country
[13]. People of these areas take temporary migration
during lean periods to maintain their income and con-
sumption levels.
It is interesting to note that the greater Rangpur in the
northern Bangladesh is a food surplus area, but agricul-
ture alone cannot provide enough employment opportun-
ities for the surplus agricultural labor force, which leads
to a very low wage rate [14]. In 2004, the daily average
wage for male laborers was found to be 50.9 BDT (Ban-
gladeshi Taka) per day without meals that made up only
68% of the average wage rate in Bangladesh which was
74.5 BDT in other parts of the country [15]. This situa-
tion also stimulates to take temporary migration during
the local lean periods.
Widespread flooding during this period intensifies this
crisis every year. In accordance with the World Food
Programs estimation, 80% to 90% of the people in this
region are agricu ltural day laborers and they do not have
any alternative source of employment during and imme-
diate after any flood incidence. During this flood period,
income earners of any vulnerable family try for alternate
income generating activities taking temporary migration
to urban areas. Moreover, rural demographic changes,
low level of human capacities, changes in cropping pat-
terns and intensities have significant impacts on the rural
economic activities of the regions [16].
2.2. Seasonal Out-Migration as a Livelihood
Coping Strategy
Rural poor optimally choose to migrate for short spells of
time . T h e season al migrants, usually getting employed as
wage labors at destination areas, can be grouped based
on four pre-migration occupations. Table 2 indicates to
the pre and post migration earning capacity and resultant
changes. Reference [17] argued that migrants benefited
from temporary migration by higher or regular income
than their rural counterparts who do not migrate. Refer-
ence [17] point out that the livelihood strategies are he-
terogeneous. Migration, especially rural-urban, has long
been a significant livelihood strategy of Bangladeshi
rural inhabitants because rural poor can earn outside of
their traditional sector [18]. The growing incidence of
temporary movements also explains eventual return-
igration following short duration of stay.
Table 1. Percentage of poor and extreme poor of the study area.
Area % Poor % Extreme Poor
Upazila of Kurigram district
Bhurungamari 68.20 52.00
Char Rajibpur 73.90 58.80
Chilmari 69.00 53.10
Phulbari 65.80 49.10
Kurigram Sadar 66.10 49.90
Nageshwari 70.30 55.00
Rajarhat 64.00 47.30
Raumari 73.50 58.10
Ulipur 66.90 50.00
Kurigram average 68.63 52.59
Districts of northern region
Gaibandha 53.04 36.07
Lalmonirhat 53.46 33.82
Nilphamari 70.15 55.00
Kurigram 68.63 52.59
Northern region average 61.32 44.37
Bangladesh average 41.63 26.65
Source: B angladesh Poverty Map, VAM, 2009.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ME
Table 2. Changes in family income, before and after migration (%).
occupation Major occupation at
Economically active
people* of the household
(% of all members)
Contribution to total
fami ly expenditure
(pre-mig ration)
Contribution to otal
fami ly xpenditure
(post-migration) Change
farmer Wage labor &
rickshaw puller
1.00 - 1.99 58 71 ↑ 13
2.00 - 2.99 65 79 ↑ 14
3.00> 72 89 ↑ 17
wage labor Agri. & non-agri.
wage labor
1.00 - 1.99 59 73 ↑ 14
2.00 - 2.99 64 75 ↑ 11
3.00> 70 86 ↑ 16
wage labor Non-agri. wage labor
1.00 - 1.99 62 81 ↑ 19
2.00 - 2.99 72 83 ↑ 11
3.00> 76 87 ↑ 11
Small business Wage labor &
1.00 - 1.99 61 73 ↑ 12
2.00 - 2.99 69 81 ↑ 12
3.00> 74 88 ↑ 14
*Eligible individuals who either are employed or are actively seeking employment.
2.3. Migration as a Driver of Rural
Seasonal migration can benefit areas of origin and desti-
nation, as well as migrants and their families. With all
other stimulating factors, out-migration is a key process
of rural transformation in the developing world. Thus,
rural-urban temporary out-migration is a fundamental
part of rural livelihood strategies and transformation.
These reflect the push-pull effects of the northern areas
and developed rural areas of Bangladesh in terms of
economic development and regional endowments.
3. Data and Methodology
The empirical basis of this paper is a household survey
conducted in 2009 in northern areas. A three-stage strati-
fied random sampling, followed by a structured ques-
tionnaire was employed to collect micro-level data from
nine different primary sampling units of stud y areas (K u-
rigram District) to obtain the required information re-
garding out-migration.
A probit model is used to identify the so-
cio-emographic push-pullfactors of individual’s deci-
sion about the likelihood of undertaking voluntary migra-
tion. Related continuous explanatory variables, including
binary response and composite dummy are considered to
investigate and compare the probability of person’s deci-
sion to voluntarily migrate to reduce income fluctuations1.
The responses which are needed to construct the compo-
site dummy (migrant’s choice about destination area) is
obtained by another three different dummy variables that
are, availability of higher income sources, lower cost of
migration, and favorable shelter at destination areas.
The zero-one response variable is used to estimate the
probability that an ind ividual is migrating, in the follo w-
ing way, whether an individual will decide to be an
out-migrant with the value 1 represented by go for
temporar y out-migrationand otherwise 0.
()( )
Pr 1yx
== Φ
denotes probability and
is the cumula-
tive density function of the standard normal distribution
(0, 1), which gives us the likelihood for
both cases
; and β'x is called the probit
score/index. A one-unit change (either increase or de-
crease) in the x coefficient leads to a change in the probit
score/index by β standard deviations. Table 3 describes
the definitions of the model variables.
4. Results and Discussions
This paper estimated a probit model using continuous,
single dummy and composite dummy for household,
household head, area and migration characteristics to
understand the selectivity of migration decision [19].
Here, age is positively related to the seasonal migration
1See (Table 4).
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ME
decision, whereas the quadratic term remains negative
that refers to a number of physical as well as socio- de-
mographic factors [20]. This reveals that the seasonal
migrations occur frequently at early stage of life, and
also reflects that migration decision incr eases with age of
household head, and then decreases. Table 4 presen ts the
results of the probit model with standard errors.
The second determining factor of the decision of being
a seasonal rural-urban migrant is the individual’s educa-
tional qualification. The primary education dummy
(hh_tys_l) shows that individuals’ who attended the pri-
mary schools have less probability to migrate during the
lean period.
The model consists of the dummy variable spcmfe_l
that equals 1 if the spcmfe_ldoes not exceed the lower
threshold. A positive and significant spcmfe_ldummy
shows that household with lower level of food expendi-
ture has a probability of being seasonal migrant. Probit
results also exhibit so me significant impacts on total ou t-
standing debt, enrollment in social safety net program-
mes and choice of destinations by the migrants.
Furthermore, total household members and the de-
pendency ratio act as crucial determining factors for mi-
gration decision during lean period. Household head of a
large family size have more probability to migrate than a
smaller family head. The study shows that individual’s
with more family members or high dependency ratio has
higher probability to be a seasonal rural-urban migrant
during lean periods than his counterparts.
Households’ need to take loan frequently to cope up
with reduced income level due to seasonal unemploy-
ment, viable alternative income generating opportunities
(leads to consume less food) and other basic needs dur-
ing any lean period. The regression result of debt dummy
shows that households’ who have outstanding debt have
a tendency to migrate more.
Moreover, households living in the mainland are less
likely to go for temporary migration during the lean
period than those living on riverbanks (Table 4).The
study also reveals that urban areas with better oppor-
tunities attract more such migrants than cities as income
opportunities are comparatively higher there. The
dummy of “cho_des_lshows the same. Table 2 re-
flects that income earnings of the migrants’ families
increase after migration take place compare to
pre-migration periods.
5. Conclusions and Policy Recommendations
Individual rural-urban migration decision is modeled
here using micro-level data, focusing on push-pull
factors and self-selectivity of migrants due to seasonal
unemployment from northern Bangladesh.
Conclusion 1: Seasonal rural-urban migration occurs
frequently at early stage of life of an individual and then
decreases with age.
Table 3. Descriptions of variables of probit model.
Explanatory variables Type Description
Household head’s characteristics
hhh_age Continuous Age of household head
hhh_age_sqr Continuous Age squared
hh_tys_l Binary 1 if household h ead attended primary school, otherwise 0
Household characteristics
spcmfe_l Binary 1 if household’s share of per capita monthly food expenditure exceeds lower threshold, otherwise 0
tot_mem Continuous Total household member
dep_rto_l Binary 1 if dependency ratio is equal to or more than one, otherwise 0
hh_debt_l Binary 1 if household have outstanding debt, otherwise 0
ssnp_l Binary 1 if household under social safety net program mes, otherwise 0
Area characteristics
river_bank Binary 1 if household lived in ri verbank, otherwise 0
Migration characteristics
cho_des_l Composite
Du mmy 1 if individual have favorable choice of destination, otherwise 0
hh_chn_l Binary 1 if migrant’s income increases after migration, otherwise 0
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ME
Table 4. Probit regression results of migration decision of household head.
Explanatory variables Description Probit estimates Std. Err.
Household head’s characteristics
hhh_age Age of household head 0.02 0.05
hhh_age_sqr Age squared –0.00013 0.004
hh_tys_l 1 i f ho u sehold head attended p rimary scho ol, otherwise 00.10 0.43
Household characteristics
spcmfe_l 1 if household’s share of per capita monthly food expenditure not exceeds lower
threshold, otherwise 0 3.15* 1.79
tot_mem Total household member 0.08 0.13
dep_rto_l 1 if dependency ratio is equal to or more than one, otherwise 0 0.50 0.39
hh_debt_l 1 if househol d h ave outstanding debt, otherwise 0 0.03* 0.32
ssnp_l 1 if household under social safety net programme, otherwise 0 0.58* 0.32
Area characteristics
river_bank 1 if h ou sehold lived in riverbank, otherwise 0 0.27 0.35
Migration characteristics
cho_des_l 1 if individual have favorable choice of destination, otherwise 0 2.23*** 0.53
hh_chn_l 1 if migrant’s income increases after migration, otherwise 0 –0.50 0.36
cons Constant4.57** 2.24
LR chi2(11) 46.76
Prob > chi2 0.0000
Pseudo R2 0.3203
Log Likelihood49.62
Observation 106
Notes: Dependent variable: Migration decision of household’s head. ***< 0.01, **< 0.05, *< 0.10.
Conclusion 2: Choice of favorable destinations con-
sisting availability of higher income opportunity, lower
cost of migration, and the favorable shelter at des tination
areas are significantly related to individual decision of
being a migrant.
Conclusion 3: Lower per capita food expenditure is
another determining factor of voluntary migration.
Conclusion 4: The probability of temporary migration
decreases, if migrant’s income increases after the migra-
tion is taken place.
Short term: In view of the upcoming momentum of
seasonal unemployment, short term measures (employ-
ment/income generating programmes, social safety net
etc.) before the onset of the lean period may increase
resilience to prelim inary shocks from socio-demographic
constraints and subsequent fluctuations of income.
Medium term: Linked channels of connectivity in-
volving strategic/buffer stock of food at the Upazila level,
convenient supply chain management and allocation of
sufficient food aid may reduce seasonal difficulty.
Long term: Investment in agro -based industries is also
likely to generate employment opportunities which would
reduce the seasonal unemployment in northern regions.
To conclude, voluntary out-migration, apparently a li-
velihood strategy of the poor that changes household’s
income following rural transformation to accommodate
with wage different ials, reduces consumpt ion risks.
6. Acknowledgements
This paper is an outcome of the corresponding author's
MSS thesis under a research project, sponsored by Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and was conducted
by the Department of Economics, Shahjalal University of
Science and Technology. Authors were members of the
research team. We would like to thank the anonymous
referees and Dr. A. K. M. Nazrul Islam for their helpful
comments. The other usual disclaimers apply.
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