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News article29 June 2022Directorate-General for Environment

Migration between Italian provinces may be influenced by air pollution levels - Issue 581

Traditional studies of factors affecting internal migration commonly focus on socioeconomic conditions such as income and employment, however, a growing body of research suggests that environmental factors may be significant. 

Migration between Italian provinces may be influenced by air pollution levels

This study presents the first empirical analysis of the influence of air pollution on migration between provinces in Italy. The results suggest that local environmental conditions can have effects on intranational population movement.

Studies on migration around the world have increasingly focused on environmental and quality-of-life factors, with an expanding literature addressing positive and negative amenities as influences on population movement. Whilst there has been considerable research into national migration patterns in Europe, recent studies into the influence of quality-of-life factors have reached mixed conclusions. Migration between provinces in Italy has been well studied, but few of these investigations have considered the importance of environmental factors in decisions to migrate. This study aims to advance the understanding of this potential relationship in a European context, in contrast to previous studies focusing only on socioeconomic factors such as income, unemployment and wage differentials.

The issue of air pollution has attracted significant attention in Italy in recent years, according to the researchers. They highlight the well-publicised case of a steel plant in Taranto, southern Italy, that has been linked to high levels of pollution with impacts on human health, the environment and the local economy. This has raised the level of concern within the population over environmental degradation, air pollution and associated risks to human health, they say. The researchers suggest that different physical locations present people with ‘push’ or ‘pull’ factors – that encourage or dissuade them from moving from their homes. Push factors are linked to negative factors in an individual’s home province, while pull factors relate to positive factors in a new destination.

The researchers gathered official data on net migration rates for all 110 Italian provinces, together with provincial air pollution levels based on per capita emissions of four key pollutants (nitrogen monoxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter)1.

They also collected data on commonly-used determinants of migration: per capita GDP (gross domestic product), average property values, average level of education, unemployment rate, entrepreneurship (number of registered businesses per capita) and degree of infrastructure (from the national infrastructure index). The researchers then analysed four different models, identifying the inter-dependence of factors on migration, by considering a different selection of potential elements (such as regional effects) in each model, to determine the relationship2 between air pollution and migration levels3.

The researchers report that air pollution was a significant explanatory factor in encouraging outward migration, taking into account the socioeconomic factors considered. This relationship held across all four models considered, they say, indicating that high levels of air pollution are a ‘push’ factor encouraging people to leave a province. The results also showed effects from the socioeconomic factors confirming those found in other studies, according to the researchers, with migrants preferring provinces with higher income, lower unemployment, higher entrepreneurship and better infrastructures.

Previous studies have found higher immigration rates in northern and central provinces than those in the south of the country. Air pollution levels do not vary substantially across this geographical divide although their causes are different in these regions, the researchers say, with air pollution in the north typically due to industrialisation and urbanisation, while in the south it is associated with industrial waste and high-impact industrial plants. The geographic analysis in this study confirmed expectations that northern and central regions attract more migrants than southern Italy despite the relative similarity in air pollution levels between the regions.

The researchers argue that these findings indicate that environmental factors can be drivers of migration that could affect population distribution at national level. This could, over time, lead to an increase in migration into areas with better environmental conditions, they suggest. They conclude that environmental and migration policies are therefore interlinked, and should be developed in an integrated way if they are to achieve optimal results. They argue that this approach might help policymakers to create instruments that address environmental degradation whilst ensuring equitable improvements in environmental standards and quality of life.



    1. The air pollution index was calculated by aggregating the total emissions (in megagrams) of the four pollutants which are considered to be amongst the main anthropogenic emissions responsible for air quality, and the most important pollutants in terms of potential risk for human health.
    2. The study assesses statistical relationships between the variables; further research would be required to determine causal relationships.
    3. This study does not consider the effect of air pollution on international migration. It focuses solely on internal migration between provinces in Italy. All references to migration should, therefore, be understood in that context, and results should not be assumed to apply to international migration patterns.


    Germani, A.R., Scaramozzino, P., Castaldo, A. and Talamo, G. (2021) Does air pollution influence internal migration? An empirical investigation on Italian provinces. Environmental Science and Policy 120: 11–20.

    To cite this article/service:

    Science for Environment Policy”: European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol.

    Notes on content:

    The contents and views included in Science for Environment Policy are based on independent, peer reviewed research and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission. Please note that this article is a summary of only one study. Other studies may come to other conclusions.


      Publication date
      29 June 2022
      Directorate-General for Environment


      Annarita Germani

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