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Violence and migration: evidence from Mexico’s drug war


  • Sukanya Basu

    () (Vassar College)

  • Sarah Pearlman

    () (Vassar College)


The effect of violence on people’s residential choice remains a debated topic in the literature on crime and conflict. We examine the case of the drug war in Mexico, which dramatically increased the number of homicides since late 2006. Using data from the Mexican Census and labor force surveys, we estimate the impact of violence on migration at the municipal and state levels. To account for the endogeneity of violence, we use kilometers of federal highways interacted with cocaine supply shocks from Colombia as an instrument for the annual homicide rate. We argue that highways are good measures of pre-existing drug distribution networks, and the interaction with supply shocks arising in Colombia captures the time-variant nature of the value of these routes. After controlling for observed and unobserved area level heterogeneity, we find little evidence that increases in homicides have led to out-migration, at the domestic level. We also find little evidence of international migration at the municipal level, but some evidence of it at the state level. Our results show a muted migration response that is incompatible with a story of wide-scale displacement from the violence. JEL Classification O12, K42, O54, J11

Suggested Citation

  • Sukanya Basu & Sarah Pearlman, 2017. "Violence and migration: evidence from Mexico’s drug war," IZA Journal of Migration and Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 7(1), pages 1-29, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:izamig:v:7:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1186_s40176-017-0102-6
    DOI: 10.1186/s40176-017-0102-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Engel, Stefanie & Ibanez, Ana Maria, 2007. "Displacement Due to Violence in Colombia: A Household-Level Analysis," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(2), pages 335-365, January.
    2. Maren M. Michaelsen & Paola Salardi, 2018. "Violence, Psychological Stress and Educational Performance during the "War on Drugs" in Mexico," Working Papers tecipa-595, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    3. De Mello Joao M & Zilberman Eduardo, 2008. "Does Crime Affect Economic Decisions? An Empirical Investigation of Savings in a High-Crime Environment," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-28, December.
    4. Catherine Rodriguez & Edgar Villa, 2012. "Kidnap risks and migration: evidence from Colombia," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 25(3), pages 1139-1164, July.
    5. Valsecchi, Michele, 2014. "Land property rights and international migration: Evidence from Mexico," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 276-290.
    6. Mathias Czaika & Krisztina Kis-Katos, 2009. "Civil Conflict and Displacement: Village-Level Determinants of Forced Migration in Aceh," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 46(3), pages 399-418, May.
    7. Juan Camilo Castillo, Daniel Mejia, and Pascual Restrepo, 2014. "Scarcity without Leviathan: The Violent Effects of Cocaine Supply Shortages in the Mexican Drug War - Working Paper 356," Working Papers 356, Center for Global Development.
    8. Oeindrila Dube, Omar Garcia-Ponce, and Kevin Thom, 2014. "From Maize to Haze: Agricultural Shocks and the Growth of the Mexican Drug Sector - Working Paper 355," Working Papers 355, Center for Global Development.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pedro Paulo Orraca Romano, 2015. "Crime Exposure and Educational Outcomes in Mexico," Working Paper Series 7715, Department of Economics, University of Sussex Business School.
    2. Duque, Valentina, 2019. "Violence and Children’s Education: Evidence from Administrative Data," Working Papers 2019-16, University of Sydney, School of Economics.
    3. Pedro Paulo Orraca-Romano, 2018. "Crime Exposure and Educational Outcomes in Mexico. (Violencia y desempeño académico en México)," Ensayos Revista de Economia, Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, Facultad de Economia, vol. 0(2), pages 177-212, October.
    4. Lara, Jaime, 2018. "Subjective Well-Being among Communities Left Behind by International Migrants," MPRA Paper 87051, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. René Cabral & André Varella Mollick & Eduardo Saucedo, 2016. "Violence in Mexico and its effects on labor productivity," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 56(2), pages 317-339, March.
    6. Gianmarco Daniele & Marco Le Moglie & Federico Masera, 2020. "Pains, Guns and Moves: The Effect of the US Opioid Epidemic on Mexican Migration," BAFFI CAREFIN Working Papers 20141, BAFFI CAREFIN, Centre for Applied Research on International Markets Banking Finance and Regulation, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy.
    7. Roberto Coronado & Eduardo Saucedo, 2019. "Drug-related violence in Mexico and its effects on employment," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 57(2), pages 653-681, August.
    8. Pedro P. Orraca‐Romano & Eunice D. Vargas‐Valle, 2020. "Drug‐related violence and the decline in the number of Mexican cross‐border workers," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(2), pages 485-502, May.
    9. Orraca Romano, Pedro Paulo, 2016. "Essays on development and labour economics for Mexico," Economics PhD Theses 0816, Department of Economics, University of Sussex Business School.
    10. Magda Tsaneva & Marc Rockmore & Zahra Albohmood, 2019. "The effect of violent crime on female decision-making within the household: evidence from the Mexican war on drugs," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 615-646, June.
    11. Marí­a Padilla-Romo & Cecilia Peluffo, 2020. "Violence-Induced Migration and Peer Effects in Academic Performance," Working Papers 2020-03, University of Tennessee, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item


    Homicides; Migration; Drug distribution networks; Mexico; Conflict;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • O54 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts


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