Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Attitudes of urban residents towards environmental migration in Kenya and Vietnam


The displacement of people is an important consequence of climate change, as people may choose or be forced to migrate in response to adverse climate conditions or sudden-onset extreme climate events. Existing studies show that there is a consistently higher social acceptance of migrants fleeing political persecution or war than of economic migrants. Here we examine whether individuals in Vietnam and Kenya also extend the notion of deservingness to environmental migrants in the context of internal rural-to-urban migration, using original data from a choice-based conjoint survey experiment. We find that although residents in receiving areas view short-term climate events and long-term climate conditions as legitimate reasons to migrate, they do not see environmental migrants as more deserving than economic migrants. These findings have implications for how practitioners address population movements due to climatic changes, and how scholars study people’s attitudes towards environmental migrants.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Migrant acceptance across profiles.
Fig. 2: Effect of migrant attributes on migrant acceptance in Vietnam.
Fig. 3: Effect of migrant attributes on migrant acceptance in Kenya.

Data availability

The data and replication materials are available from the corresponding author and on the Harvard Dataverse Network ( Source Data for Figs. 13 are provided with the paper.


  1. 1.

    IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) (WMO, 2018).

  2. 2.

    Rigaud, K., de Sherbinin, A. & Jones, B. Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration (World Bank, 2018).

  3. 3.

    McLeman, R. A. Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  4. 4.

    Foresight: Migration and Global Environmental Change—Final Project Report (Government Office for Science, 2011).

  5. 5.

    Global Report on Internal Displacement (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2018).

  6. 6.

    Barrios, S., Bertinelli, L. & Strobl, E. Climatic change and rural–urban migration: the case of sub-Saharan Africa. J. Urban Econ. 60, 357–371 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Brückner, M. Economic growth, size of the agricultural sector, and urbanization in Africa. J. Urban Econ. 71, 26–36 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Brülhart, M. & Sbergami, F. Agglomeration and growth: cross-country evidence. J. Urban Econ. 65, 48–63 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Castells-Quintana, D. & Royuela, V. Agglomeration, inequality and economic growth. Ann. Regional Sci. 52, 343–366 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Sekkat, K. Urban concentration and poverty in developing countries. Growth Change 48, 435–458 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Oyvat, C. Agrarian structures, urbanization, and inequality. World Dev. 83, 207–230 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Turok, I. & McGranahan, G. Urbanization and economic growth: the arguments and evidence for Africa and Asia. Environ. Urban. 25, 465–482 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Bloom, D. E., Canning, D. & Fink, G. Urbanization and the wealth of nations. Science 319, 772–775 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Koubi, V. Climate change and conflict. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 22, 343–360 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Verkuyten, M., Mepham, K. & Kros, M. Public attitudes towards support for migrants: the importance of perceived voluntary and involuntary migration. Ethn. Racial Stud. 41, 901–918 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Bansak, K., Hainmueller, J. & Hangartner, D. How economic, humanitarian, and religious concerns shape European attitudes toward asylum seekers. Science 354, 217–222 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Weiner, B. Judgments of Responsibility: A Foundation for a Theory of Social Conduct (Guilford, 1995).

  18. 18.

    Koubi, V., Spilker, G., Schaffer, L. & Böhmelt, T. The role of environmental perceptions in migration decision-making: evidence from both migrants and non-migrants in five developing countries. Popul. Environ. 38, 134–163 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Cattaneo, C. et al. Human migration in the era of climate change. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 13, 189–206 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Hainmueller, J. & Hopkins, D. J. The hidden American immigration consensus: a conjoint analysis of attitudes toward immigrants. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 59, 529–548 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Reuveny, R. Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict. Polit. Geogr. 26, 656–673 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Østby, G. Rural–urban migration, inequality and urban social disorder: evidence from African and Asian cities. Confl. Manage. Peace Sci. 33, 491–515 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Dancygier, R. M. & Donnelly, M. J. Sectoral economies, economic contexts, and attitudes toward immigration. J. Polit. 75, 17–35 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Hainmueller, J. & Hopkins, D. J. Public attitudes toward immigration. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 17, 225–249 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Malhotra, N., Margalit, Y. & Mo, C. H. Economic explanations for opposition to immigration: distinguishing between prevalence and conditional impact. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 57, 391–410 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Facchini, G. & Mayda, A. M. Does the welfare state affect individual attitudes toward immigrants? Evidence across countries. Rev. Econ. Stat. 91, 295–314 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Kahl, C. H. States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World (Princeton Univ. Press, 2008).

  28. 28.

    Boustan, L. P., Fishback, P. V. & Kantor, S. The effect of internal migration on local labor markets: American cities during the Great Depression. J. Labor Econ. 28, 719–746 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Hainmueller, J. & Hangartner, D. Who gets a Swiss passport? A natural experiment in immigrant discrimination. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 107, 159–187 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Hopkins, D. J. The upside of accents: language, inter-group difference, and attitudes toward immigration. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 45, 531–557 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Beall, J., Guha-Khasnobis, B. & Kanbur, R. In Urbanization and Development: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (eds Beall, J. et al.) 3–16 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2020).

  32. 32.

    Card, D., Dustmann, C. & Preston, I. Immigration, wages, and compositional amenities. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 10, 78–119 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Raleigh, C., Jordan, L. & Salehyan, I. Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Migration and Conflict (World Bank, 2008).

  34. 34.

    Gaikwad, N. & Nellis, G. The majority–minority divide in attitudes toward internal migration: evidence from Mumbai. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 61, 456–472 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    World Report 2019: Vietnam: Events of 2018 (Human Rights Watch, 2019).

  36. 36.

    Leeper, T. J., Hobolt, S. B. & Tilley, J. Measuring subgroup preferences in conjoint experiments. Polit. Anal. 28, 207–221 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Ethnic Minority Groups in Vietnam (United Nations Population Fund, 2011).

  38. 38.

    Hunter, L. M., Luna, J. K. & Norton, R. M. Environmental dimensions of migration. Annu. Rev. Sociol. 41, 377–397 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Allport, G. The Nature of Prejudice (Perseus Books, 1954).

  40. 40.

    The 2018 Viet Nam Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI): Measuring Citizens’ Experiences (Centre for Community Support and Development Studies (CECODES), Centre for Research and Training of the Viet Nam Fatherland Front (VFF-CRT), Real-Time Analytics, and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2019).

  41. 41.

    Paddock, R. Toxic fish in Vietnam idle a local industry and challenge the state. The New York Times (9 June 2016);

  42. 42.

    Macharia, W., Isbell, T. & Kopf, A. Kenyans Say Climate Change Affecting Personal Lives and Country (Afrobarometer, 2018);

  43. 43.

    Selormey, E., Dome, M. Z., Osse, L. & Logan, C. Change Ahead: Experience and Awareness of Climate Change in Africa (Afrobarometer, 2019);

  44. 44.

    Kenya: Drought—2014–2020 (ReliefWeb, 2019).

  45. 45.

    Hainmueller, J., Hopkins, D. J. & Yamamoto, T. Causal inference in conjoint analysis: understanding multidimensional choices via stated preference experiments. Polit. Anal. 22, 1–30 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Berinsky, A. J., Rizzo, T., Rosenzweig, L. R. & Heaps, E. Attribute affinity: US natives’ attitudes toward immigrants. Polit. Behav. (2018).

  47. 47.

    Clayton, K., Ferwerda, J. & Horiuchi, Y. Exposure to immigration and admission preferences: evidence from France. Polit. Behav. (2019).

  48. 48.

    Hartman, A. C. & Morse, B. S. Violence, empathy and altruism: evidence from the Ivorian refugee crisis in Liberia. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 50, 731–755 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Malhotra, N. & Newman, B. Explaining immigration preferences: disentangling skill and prevalence. Res. Polit. 4, 2053168017734076 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Ward, D. G. Public attitudes toward young immigrant men. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 113, 264–269 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Demombynes, G. & Vu, L. H. Vietnam’s Household Registration System (English) (World Bank Group, 2016).

  52. 52.

    Cummings, R. J. Migration and National Development: The Kenyan Example (African Migration and National Development, 1985).

  53. 53.

    De la Cuesta, B., Egami, N., Imai, K. & Harvard, S. P. Improving the External Validity of Conjoint Analysis: The Essential Role of Profile Distribution (2019).

  54. 54.

    The 2015 National Internal Migration Survey: Major Findings (General Statistics Office (GSO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2016).

Download references


This research was partly funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies. T.B. acknowledges support from the British Academy (grant no. SRG19\190780, in partnership with the UK Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy).

Author information




G.S. contributed to the manuscript preparation, data collection, graph generation, model estimation and model interpretation. Q.N. contributed to the manuscript preparation, data collection, and conjoint development and application. V.K. contributed to the project formulation, data collection, manuscript preparation and conjoint application. T.B. contributed to the manuscript preparation, graph generation and model interpretation.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabriele Spilker.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Nikhar Gaikwad and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–33 and Tables 1–4.

Reporting Summary

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Stata dataset combining the variables from the Vietnamese and the Kenyan datasets necessary to replicate Fig. 1.

Source Data Fig. 2

Replication dataset for Vietnam. All replication materials are also available on the Harvard Dataverse Network (

Source Data Fig. 3

Replication dataset for Kenya. All replication materials are also available on the Harvard Dataverse Network (

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Spilker, G., Nguyen, Q., Koubi, V. et al. Attitudes of urban residents towards environmental migration in Kenya and Vietnam. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 622–627 (2020).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing