Impact of weather factors on migration intention using machine learning algorithms

John Aoga, Juhee Bae, Stefanija Veljanoska, Siegfried Nijssen, Pierre Schaus

A growing attention in the empirical literature has been paid to the incidence of climate shocks and change in migration decisions. Previous literature leads to different results and uses a multitude of traditional empirical approaches. This paper proposes a tree-based Machine Learning (ML) approach to analyze the role of the weather shocks towards an individual's intention to migrate in the six agriculture-dependent-economy countries such as Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. We perform several tree-based algorithms (e.g., XGB, Random Forest) using the train-validation-test workflow to build robust and noise-resistant approaches. Then we determine the important features showing in which direction they are influencing the migration intention. This ML-based estimation accounts for features such as weather shocks captured by the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) for different timescales and various socioeconomic features/covariates. We find that (i) weather features improve the prediction performance although socioeconomic characteristics have more influence on migration intentions, (ii) country-specific model is necessary, and (iii) international move is influenced more by the longer timescales of SPEIs while general move (which includes internal move) by that of shorter timescales.

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