A Fascinating Visualization of World Migration

Where are people relocating from and where are they heading?

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Abel / Sander

Every year, millions of people leave their birth countries to try their fortunes in foreign lands. Where are the most popular destinations for these people? What countries are sending out streams of residents who may never come back?

The itineraries of migrants was the subject of a recent investigation by Austrian researchers Guy Abel and Nikola Sander, who arrived at a few interesting conclusions. By extrapolating from United Nations data, they discovered that the percentage of the world's population that's moved over 5-year periods hasn't changed much since 1995. They also found there are hot spots where massive migrations are taking place, chiefly from Latin to North America, between South and West Asia, and all around inside Africa.

To illustrate the network of globe-trotting journeys, Abel and Sander generated the above fantastic graphic for 2005 to 2010. Migration flows for different world regions are shown as color-coded arcs, with lines that begin close to the circle's edge depicting outgoing migrations (as shown with the arrows for "Central America"). Fatter arcs represent larger migrations and the numbered tick marks indicate how many millions of people are involved. 

Some things to note: North America is a huge magnet for migrants, drawing tons of people from Latin America and Asia. (In turn, folks born in North America tend to relocate to Europe.) There's a steady flow of people leaving South Asia for the oil-based economies of the Gulf states. Some migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa wind up in Europe, but by and large they tend to stay within the continent, specifically in the member countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union. And Europe is a complex stew of migrant activity, drawing bodies from all over the planet.

The strong pull of the market is evident in a "general tendency for more developed regions to record net migration gains," the researchers write in Science, "whereas the less developed countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America sent more migrants than they received from 2005 to 2010." This pattern is shown to nice effect in an interactive version of Abel and Sander's data for 2005 to 2010. Hold your mouse over North America, and you can see the large, potent flow of migrants entering the continent:

The Middle East also proves a powerful draw for many developing countries:

And here's Europe, which attracts migrants from a diverse set of places but sends them mainly to other parts of the continent:

Bottom visualizations courtesy of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (Vienna) and Null2

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