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The Rational Choice Theory of Human Migration

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Though migration is not a prerequisite for human trafficking to occur, human trafficking involves the movement of people across national and international boundaries. In this case human trafficking can be seen as one segment of the broader human migration. There are a variety of theoretical approaches that has been developed to explain the factors that cause people to migrate. Theories in this category thrive to answer the question why migrations begin. Among others neoclassical economics or the rational choice theory is probably the earliest and the most known migration theory. According to Douglas and his colleagues there are two models of neoclassical economics, the macro economics and micro economics models. For it focus on the individuals’ decision and choice to migrate, the latter model is used in this research.

The rational choice theory or the micro model of neoclassical economics can be used to explain human trafficking from both the economic and social perspectives. This theory explains human behavior and the choice people made. In general, according to Douglas et al (1993), the basic argument behind this theory is that people as a rational being want to maximize economic and social gain and minimize risk. The rational choice theory framework can help to explain human trafficking from both perspectives of the trafficking victims and the traffickers.

According to this theory, people decide to migrate because a cost-benefit calculation leads them to expect a positive net return, usually monetary, from movement. Migration is conceptualized as a form of investment in human capital. People choose to move to a place where they can be most productive, given their skills; but before they can capture the higher wages associated with greater labour productivity they must undertake certain investments, which include the material costs of traveling, the effort involved in learning a new environment and culture, the difficulty experienced in adapting to a new labour market, and the psychological costs of cutting old ties and establishing new ones.

Victims of trafficking originally make the decision to trust the traffickers in hopes that they will accumulate money and have a better way of life in another country. In this case, according to the rational choice theory, trafficking victims were originally rational for they have decided to move with the traffickers to another country where they expect a better way of life. Because traffickers are professionally acquainted with deceiving talents, they are extremely persuasive and can easily persuade individuals to migrate. As far as the golden offers promised by traffickers concerned, the risk of trusting a trafficker seems small compared to the huge rewards in the future. Similar to the decision of the trafficking victims, the decision made by the traffickers is also rational. To win the trust of individual victims and to generate a huge amount of money from the trafficking of them, the traffickers deceive and persuade individuals with false promises.

In this theory rational decision making, free will, and cost benefit analysis are the three major variables that used to build an integrated framework to explain human trafficking. The way in which human traffickers select their victims is based on the cost-benefit analysis of the trafficking and vulnerability of potential victims.

Human trafficking is a crime against humanity, and it is a direct affront to human dignity. Rational choice theories postulate that criminals like human traffickers are rational beings who make decisions to commit crime (trafficking persons) based on the costs and benefits involved in the process of crime perpetration.

Potential migrants estimate the costs and benefits of moving to alternative locations and migrate to where the expected discounted net returns are greatest over some time horizon. Based on this theory it can be concluded that, if the quantity of the expected net returns to migration is positive for some potential destination, the individual migrates; if it is negative the individual stays; and if it is zero, the individual is indifferent between moving and staying. In theory, a potential migrant goes to where the expected net returns to migration are greatest than staying at home.

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The Rational Choice Theory Of Human Migration. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from
“The Rational Choice Theory Of Human Migration.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022,
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