Michelle L. O'Brien


Research Interests

Political Conflict, Migration, Demography, Quantitative Methods

The Long-Term Social Consequences of War

This research focuses on how institutions and individuals interact to produce long-term social change. Some of this research draws on field experience in Tajikistan in 2017, to examine changes to social institutions such as education and migration in the aftermath of war. I take two approaches to this work: first, I understand conflict to be an event-based phenomenon that occurs locally, and second, I understand conflict to affect individual outcomes as well as the institutional landscape. My analyses include large survey data analysis, simulation modeling, and qualitative analysis of original interview data.

Related Publications

"Using Survey Data for Agent-Based Modeling: Design and Challenges in a Model of Armed Conflict and Population Change" with Nathalie E. Williams (first) and Xiaozheng Yao, in Agent-Based Modelling in Population Studies, pp 159-184

Abstract: Although agent-based models (ABMs) have become more commonly found in the demographic literature in the past decade, the use of survey data to populate and operationalize ABMs is still rare in demography. This technique, more commonly found in the geographic and land use literature, creates opportunities to study entirely new questions, but is time-consuming and cumbersome to use. In this chapter, we seek to contribute to the use of survey data based ABMs for demographic purposes. We do this by presenting details of the design, structure, and functioning of an agent-based model we created to examine the influence of armed conflict on population composition and change. In addition to presenting our model design, we also discuss several challenges and solutions to using survey data in the initialization and parameterization of survey-data based ABMs. Finally, we present illustrative examples from our ABM and compare the results with regression-based analyses. It is our aim that this presentation and discussion will expedite the design and testing of ABMs for future projects.

Violence and Migration

This research focuses understanding the causal relationship between wartime and nonwartime violence and migration. I focus on specifying how, when, and why violence shapes migration.

Related Publications

"Migration as an Adaptive Response to Ethnic Nationalism in Russia" in Migration Studies

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that migration responses to push factors can differ along ethnic lines. To arrive at migration as an adaptive response in which minorities engage, two processes are necessary. First, an individual making the decision to migrate must interpret ethnic tensions as a threat to her life chances, and she must evaluate her future prospects in this ethnically charged framework. Second, the option of migration must be a viable one. That is, an individual must consider them self the plausible target of the threat of diminishing life chances, conclude that an adaptive response is required, and determine that the benefits of migrating outweigh the costs. In order to explain these processes, the relational theory of ethnic politics (Hale 2008) and demographic theories of migration are employed. To test this hypothesis, an event history model is estimated using regional, household, and individual-level data from Russian censuses and the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey. The relationship between out-migration and regional nationalist vote share is examined as well as regional hate crimes. The findings suggest that political push factors affect minority groups differently from the ethnic majority, supporting the hypothesis that the success of ethno nationalist politics in a region signals vulnerability to ethnic minorities, influencing migration decisions.

Preferred Statistical Programming Languages

R, advanced; Stata, advanced; Python, intermediate