Moving out to move on

Understanding the link between migration, disadvantage and social mobility

Papoutsaki D, Buzzeo J, Gray H, Williams M, Cockett J, Akehurst G, Alexander K, Newton B, Pollard E |   | Institute for Employment Studies / Social Mobility Commission  | Jul 2020

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This project, funded by the Social Mobility Commission, uses mixed methods to investigate the link between internal migration and social mobility. More specifically, it looks at who leaves deprived areas and how that varies across Great Britain; how much employment outcomes vary between those who leave and those who stay; whether life improves for those who migrate; the impact of outward migration on those left behind; and the reasons people stay or choose to leave deprived areas.

Main findings

People from a higher socio-economic background are the most geographically mobile group

People from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to move to study or work than those from working-class backgrounds. Nearly 60% of movers have one or both parents belonging to a higher managerial occupation, compared with 40% of stayers. Over half of movers (56%) have a degree, while less than two fifths of those staying behind do.Such movers are more likely to move to more affluent areas than those from a lower socio-economic background, but also to relocate to more deprived areas. While in some instances this could be beneficial for the economy of the receiving area, it also risks gentrification.

Internal migration might not be equalising opportunity between deprived and affluent areas, as migration flows are higher between areas with similar levels of deprivation

Migration outflows from the most deprived areas are mainly directed towards other deprived areas. An individual from a poor community is four times more likely to move to another deprived area than somewhere with better opportunities. Similarly, migration from the best-off areas is mainly directed towards equally prosperous locations or places with higher levels of deprivation. This means that geographical segregation of opportunity could be reinforced further by such flows.

‘Movers’ experience better employment outcomes than stayers

Movers, including those moving from the most deprived areas, are more likely than ‘stayers’ to be employed; to be employed in a higher-level occupation; and to earn more. These differences are partly explained by movers being more highly educated, from higher socio-economic backgrounds and more economically motivated than stayers. The picture is less rosy for those who stay behind. Men who stay in the most deprived regions are 14.3 percentage points less likely to be employed at the highest occupation levels, compared with men who move on. And women stayers are 7.8 percentage points less likely to be employed in professional or technical occupations, compared with women movers.

Differences between the employment outcomes of movers and stayers from disadvantaged backgrounds are more significant than differences in employment outcomes between movers and stayers from affluent backgrounds

Although movers from all backgrounds have better employment outcomes than stayers, the chance to choose to move matters more for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Unemployment is higher among stayers (8.2%) than movers (3%). And in terms of socio-economic progression, only 30.2% of stayers from a routine and manual socio-economic background reached higher managerial or professional occupations, compared with 47.1% of movers from similar backgrounds.

Those who move to affluent city centres do not necessarily have an overall greater quality of life than those who stay where they grew up. The qualitative research found that there were differences in the quality of life between those living in more and less deprived areas with respect to:

  • Cost of living: The high cost of living was a problem for people who moved to London, but was less so for those who moved to other large city centres. This was not an issue for stayers in deprived areas. This was further supported by the quantitative analysis, which showed that the proportion of movers owning their home was almost 10 percentage points lower than for stayers.
  • Social connections: Movers to large city centres often experienced isolation and loneliness when they moved, but this was mitigated over time. Most stayers enjoyed strong social connections within their local communities.
  • Healthcare: Movers to large city centres reported better access to healthcare compared with their previous experience in deprived areas, whereas stayers in more deprived areas felt that healthcare provision kept deteriorating over time.
  • Education: Movers had better educational opportunities than stayers in more deprived areas.
  • Public transport: Public transport was much better for movers in large city centres than for stayers in deprived areas, even though some movers in London mentioned that it was costly.
  • Social activities: Movers in large city centres had many opportunities to engage in hobbies and social activities. Stayers in deprived areas, on the other hand, did not have many activities, and some of the available activities were quite costly.