Sharp decline in people moving home, says new study

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The FINANCIAL — The rate at which people move home in England and Wales has declined dramatically over the last 30 years, according to new research published by LSE.

The study, the first of its kind, challenges the prevailing notion of an ever more mobile society in an age of globalisation.

Using the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study of linked census records, it examines the evidence provided by its 10-year migration indicator, with particular attention to the first and last decades available, 1971-1981 and 2001-2011. This shows that there has been a marked reduction, 17.7 per cent, in the level of shorter-distance (less than 10km) moving for almost all types of people. The propensity of people to make longer-distance address changes has declined much less, though the 2.6 per cent fall between the 1970s and the 2000s may be an underestimate owing to the inclusion of moves to and from university in the latest decade.

The report, Are People Moving Home Less? An Analysis of Address Changing in England and Wales, 1971-2011, Using the ONS Longitudinal Study, notes that the reasons for the decline are unclear, but explains:

“Change in home-moving rates can have both positive and negative connotations, most notably for national prosperity which is normally seen to gain from labour mobility but also at the individual level where greater local rootedness is usually seen as beneficial unless it arises from people being unable to move when they want to.”

Published by LSE’s Spatial Economics Research Centre (SERC), it notes how most social scientists assume that migration and mobility will increase over the long term because of social and economic change. Occupational trends in western societies are assumed to be raising migration rates because the composition of the labour market has been switching away from blue-collar manual work and becomingly increasingly skewed towards higher-skilled ‘service class’ groups with a long tradition of greater geographical mobility.

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The report says that the ten-year migration rate fell steadily across the four decades since the 1970s, reducing from its 55 per cent level for the 1970s to 53 per cent for the 1980s, 49.8 per cent for the 1990s and 45.3 per cent for the 2000s, an overall fall of 9.7 per cent points between the first and last decades and a relative decline of 17.7 per cent from the 1970s rate.

Most groups, particularly the armed forces and the unemployed, have become less migratory over time. It is only private renters who have become more migratory. Males are now significantly more likely to move than females, unlike in the 1970s. Another change since then is that the UK-born have switched from being less to more migratory than immigrants.

It concludes: “Clearly…according to this measure of migration intensity, the population of England and Wales would appear to have been moving home substantially less in recent years than was the case three decades ago.”

It adds that the reasons behind this merit further investigation because: “This trend is one that has all manner of implications for individuals, communities and national well-being.

Professor Tony Champion of Newcastle University and an associate of LSE’s Spatial Economics Research Centre, who undertook the research with Ian Shuttleworth (Queen’s University, Belfast), said: “This study was prompted by research on the USA that showed sharp declines in all distances of address changing since the 1980s, so the challenge now is to establish why the UK experience has been similar for local moves but not for longer-distance ones.”

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