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Where is Everyone Going?

Understanding the role of internal migration in shaping regional population change in Germany
Source: diliananikolova

We know that internal migration is an important component of regional population change in Germany and most other European countries. However, little research has looked at whether the way in which people’s movement shapes population dynamics has been stable across time and regions. Nico Stawarz and Nikola Sander from Germany’s Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB) use data on migration flows between 401 counties for the period 1991 to 2017 to study the impact of migration on regional population change since German Reunification. A key focus lies on the patterns of movement between counties with different population densities. The aim is to examine the degree to which internal migration in Germany has been more towards the major metropolitan regions or away from them, using a regression method.

The results highlight the important role that internal migration plays in shaping the redistribution of population, especially the movements of young adults and families along the rural-urban continuum. Tracking internal migration patterns across time reveals that the impact of internal migration on population change varies over time and is context-dependent. The authors show that in recent decades, the patterns of internal migration have swung back and forth between urbanising and counter-urban tendencies, resulting in population gains in either the inner cities or their surrounding neighbourhoods. These swings are related to changes in urban and rural labour markets, the rise in the higher education industry in cities and the role that rising housing prices have on preferences for urban, suburban or rural residence among families and older adults. In recent years, internal migration flows have begun to be directed towards less densely settled areas, indicating the arrival of a new suburbanisation phase. However, the results clearly show that it is not the remote rural areas that benefit from this trend, but rather the relatively densely populated areas, e.g. within the greater regions around Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne.

How big is the impact of internal migration compared to international migration and natural population change? Stawarz and Sander show that in the 1990s and 2000s internal migration tended to be more important for shaping regional populations than international migration and natural population change. This pattern has reversed in the last few years due to the rising impact of international migration coupled with natural population growth in regions with a high population density. Population growth in densely settled regions contributes to rising rental prices and puts additional pressure on the housing market. This in turn drives the recent shift of internal migration from urbanisation to suburbanisation. It will be interesting to see whether the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerates the suburbanisation trend, given that social contact restrictions and the fear of a lockdown seem to increase the desire, especially among families, for detached housing with a private garden.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Nico Stawarz and Nikola Sander