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Social scientists talk about two aspects to people's choice to move from a rural area to an urban area. These aspects are the "push" factors and the "pull" factors.
"Push" factors are those that make people want to leave the place where they are living. In many countries, rural areas are poorer than urban areas. Fewer jobs are available in these areas. This is typically the most important "push" factor. People are "pushed" away from the rural areas because of the lack of opportunities in such areas. Many young people are also "pushed" by a lack of cultural/social opportunities in the rural areas.
"Pull" factors are those that make people want to come to a given place. Urban areas tend to have things that rural areas do not. They tend to have more job opportunities and better schools. They tend to have more cultural and social amenities. These things make cities look appealing. Because of such things, people are "pulled" towards the city.
So, people tend to move from rural to urban areas both because they are "pushed" away from the rural areas and because they are "pulled" to the urban areas.
There is no overarching single reason for the migration of people to urban areas. In light of this, let me mentions a few reasons.
First, if we use China as a test case, we can say that the mass migration of people from rural area to cities is based on governmental incentives. As the central government decided to literally build cities overnight, they needed workers. So, Chinese banks made loans to companies to build the infrastructure of China. These jobs and hopes of a better life created a shift to urban areas.
Second, if we look at places like New York and London, population increases took place because of the Industrial Revolution. People followed jobs and opportunities. Therefore, people left rural areas to look for more opportunities.
Third, if we look at how rural areas are hit hard by drought and other forces of nature that limit opportunities, then we can say that part of the pull of cities is that there is little for people in rural areas.
Finally, as cities grow, there is more to do, to see, and to experience. Therefore, there is an allure, which cannot be underestimated.
As described above, a set of push (conditions that force an individual to move away) and pull (conditions and opportunities that appeal to individuals) factors determine the migration of people from rural to urban areas.
In general, migration is related to business and employment opportunities. The agriculture dominant rural economies around the world may not provide sufficient employment to all. In addition, agriculture (in many regions of the world) also suffers from natural disasters such as drought, storms, etc. Smaller land holdings are also unable to compete against more commercialized agriculture of larger holdings. Other push factors may include lack of employment/social/cultural/recreational opportunities. Cities offer many attractions (or pull factors) compared to rural areas. There are more employment opportunities in a wide variety of disciplines and for different skill sets. Social/cultural and recreational activities are also more easily accessible. Other benefits include better educational (better schools, colleges, etc.) and medicare (better hospitals) opportunities, higher standards of life, etc.
As highlighted above, there are generally two types of factors that are involved in rural-urban migration. The push factors refer to forces that encourage one to move away from an area and pull factors encourage an individual to move to an area. Noting that most rural areas across the world are agricultural, some push factors that would cause one to move to an urban area include drought and famine, conflicts and disputes, decline in subsistence farming as a result of development of commercial agriculture, poverty, lack of proper amenities and services and generally lack of opportunities. Examples of pull factors include: better employment opportunities, access to education of higher quality, better services such as medical care, better security and a higher standard of living.
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