Migration and Place Attractiveness



What is it that makes some places appear more attractive than others to live in? Does it depend on the particular characteristics or situation of the persons considering the attractiveness, in what phase in life the persons find themselves in, or are there some common features, perhaps place characteristics that are viewed positively by all, independently of context? The present thesis sets out to examine place attractiveness from a migration perspective. This topic is important since the ability of places to attract migrants has become a key issue in recent development debates. However, place attractiveness is problematic to approach due to the abstract and usually subjectively understood nature of the concept. The thesis will therefore present a conceptual framework from which it is argued that place attractiveness is suitably approached in a migration context. The thesis also examines what it is that makes some places more attractive than other places, when and for whom.

The thesis begins with this summary, which serves as general introduction to the six attached papers that contribute empirical, methodological and theoretical perspectives in order to facilitate a better understanding of place attractiveness and migration in Sweden. In this introductory section current debates relating to place attractiveness and migration will first be reviewed before moving on to a presentation of the aim of the thesis and the more specific research questions addressed in the attached papers. The summary also contains a proposal for a conceptual framework for the study of place attractiveness in a migration context. This is followed by a brief review of the concept of migration and how it is used in the attached papers before the results of the thesis are discussed. Lastly, this introductory section ends with a summary in Swedish. The term “place” is used in a general sense throughout the summary, encompassing geographical terms such as space, region, municipality, neighbourhood, etc. The term “migration” should be interpreted as interregional or long-distance migration within Sweden.

Current debates

The ability of places to attract migrants is of fundamental importance to local and regional development. This is particularly evident in countries that experience low or negative natural population growth (Champion, 1993). Consider for instance the contemporary low fertility levels that lead to an increasingly ageing population. This development has caused concern over societal progress when a declining share of the population must provide resources for an increasing share of the elderly (Malmberg and Sommestad, 2002; Harper, 2006). There are many other examples that may also help explain why migration issues receive such high policy salience in local and regional development debates. For instance, the importance of places’ ability to attract the right kind of work force or businesses to enhance the competitiveness of trade, service and industry has frequently been emphasized (e.g. Florida, 2002; 2005), coupled with a growing interest in the interrelationship of demography and economic growth (e.g. Bloom and Williamson, 1998). Other examples range from traditional arguments that stress the tax and spending power that migrants may contribute (Serow, 2003; Malecki, 2004), to more vague notions of population growth being positive in a more general sense (Bäcklund, 1999). Places that appear as desirable for migrants will obviously face brighter prospects than places not so fortunate. 

While the aforementioned importance ascribed to the ability of places to attract migrants is by no means new in development contexts (see e.g. Kryger, 1764), there are other aspects that arguably make the publication of this thesis somewhat timely. Contemporary societal changes may tentatively play a part in creating an advantageous setting for changes in migration patterns. Recent arguments claim that the factors influencing residential choices and attracting people to particular places have been altered fundamentally during the late 1990s (Fotheringham et al, 2000:393-394). While it used to be thought that choosing between places to live was dictated by employment considerations, other aspects have come into play enabling other factors to influence destination choices (Ibid.). Thus before discussing the more specific aims of the attached papers it seems warranted to present the most salient features of these aspects since they might be instrumental in shaping both contemporary and future migration patterns.

The first, and perhaps most distinctive, aspect is a demographic feature that results in an increasing share of the population having fewer constraints. It relates to the ongoing change in age structure of the population and contemporary trends towards zero, or even declining, population growth. During the 1990s the birth rates in Sweden began to decline, following a general trend in the western world (e.g. Kohler et al, 2002). By 1999 Swedish birth rates had reached an historical all time low, or at least since measurements began some 250 years ago (Hofsten, 1986; Andersson, 2004). The point to be made in the context of this thesis is that low fertility levels will lead to an increasingly ageing population. From this it follows that an increasing share of the population is going into retirement and thus no longer dependent upon the location of workplaces. They can therefore increasingly let their preferences guide them in migration decisions. In addition, the actual average retirement age in Sweden is well below 65 years and, despite the fact that people also tend to live longer, Soidre (2005) has shown that less than ten per cent of the population 55 to 64 years could consider working beyond the age of 65. In sum, a growing proportion of the population will experience fewer constraints and can choose more freely where they want to live.

A second aspect that may lead to greater opportunities to choose among places to live relates to technological advances. What has become known as “time-space convergence”, defined by Johnston et al (1998:628) as “a decrease in the friction of distance between places”, means that people can travel much faster over longer distances and at lower costs (see Janelle, 1968; 1969; Abler, 1971). In addition, ever improving information and communication technologies have brought about less dependence on living close to the workplace and more and more people are able to work some of the time from their home; for instance, most Swedes today have Internetaccess (Ellegård and Vilhelmson, 2004). Therefore, the increasing ease with which people can undertake long distance commuting or telework has augmented the number of possible places to live. This ongoing development might lead to more opportunities when making destination choices.

The third aspect concerns increasing economic well-being and possible changes in life values. Inglehart (1997) has argued and also shown empirically that people living in societies that have reached a certain stage of material wealth will increasingly focus upon immaterial aspects of life. The attractiveness of places would then arguably become more important in people’s lives. This argument is actually quite simple since basic needs (e.g. food, clothing and shelter) must be reasonably fulfilled before more “advanced preferences” can come into play – for instance, preferences in terms of what places are perceived as desirable to live in. 

Taken together, these three aspects – an increasing less constrained share of the population, technological advances that give greater possibilities of choosing where to live, and an increasing economic well-being coupled with possible changes in what people value in life – would indeed seem to allow the preferences of individual migrants to play a more prominent role in migration decision-making. This greater flexibility may imply that “the significance of spatial variations in quality of life has been reinforced” (Findlay and Rogerson, 1993:46), making it more important that places are perceived as attractive.

But even so, objections can be raised regarding the extent to which each of these factors really matter for prospective changes in migration motives and population redistribution. For instance, the elderly may choose to use their lack of constrains for tourism and not migration – particularly since the growing elderly population does not have a great migration probability (Bell and Ward, 2000). Furthermore, whatever new opportunities communication technologies may have provided, there is little to suggest that teleemployment, for example, has become as widespread as was initially expected by many analysts (Vilhelmson and Thulin, 2001, but see also Hedlund, 2003:148). Despite popular arguments that businesses will move to places where their employees prefer to live (e.g. Florida, 2002; Dziembowska-Kowalska and Funck, 2000) business relocations to low-pay countries seem to be the dominant trend. 

Nevertheless, some regions have obviously undergone quite dramatic changes in settlement patterns as a result of changing migration motives, for instance around the Mediterranean (e.g. Casado-Diaz et al, 2004). But apart from such well-known examples, little is known about similar trends in countries such as Sweden. So, while Johansson and Persson (1991) pointed to what they termed a “post-industrial migration and settlement pattern” from a Swedish perspective, it is surprising to note how few empirical studies have been conducted on this subject. In a review of quality of life and migration, Rogerson (1999:977) noted that “the relationship between … location decision-making and quality of life is only partially substantiated by empirical research”. There is thus little empirical evidence supporting arguments that the factors influencing residential choices and attracting people to particular places have been altered. 

Aim of the thesis

The overarching aim of this thesis, shared by all the attached papers, is to examine place attractiveness from a migration perspective. Since this is an article-based thesis, the papers have their individual, more sharply delimited purposes and research questions. The intention is however that they shed light on various aspects of place attractiveness, while simultaneously helping to advance the research frontier of migration studies through their specific empirical, methodological and theoretical contributions.

In addition, three issues of a more general character are approached in the thesis. The first relates to how place attractiveness may be understood from a conceptual point of view in a migration context. The second issue relates to what it is that makes some places more attractive than others; for whom and when. The third issue concerns relating the findings of the thesis to current debates on local and regional development.

A brief disclaimer regarding the two central concepts, place attractiveness and migration, is appropriate here. Place attractiveness is an abstract and usually subjectively understood concept and, like concepts such as “beauty” or “happiness”, most people intuitively know what it is but are unable to define it. Migration is also a somewhat problematic concept since its temporal and spatial dimensions most often vary in different studies. Both concepts will therefore be discussed in the next sections to facilitate the understanding of the problematic aspects associated with them.

Aims of the papers

The first two papers both deal with place marketing campaigns carried out by Swedish municipalities to attract new residents. The promotion and marketing of places has a long tradition (Ward, 1998), but as opposed to attempts to attract the traditional target groups of tourists and businesses, the extent to which attracting migrants constitute an aim is largely unknown. Further, the actual results of place marketing are also unknown. However, promotion and marketing might be particularly important since creating or strengthening place attractiveness is what these campaigns are all about and they are designed to influence people’s perception of places in order to influence their migration decisions.

I.                               The first paper aims to provide an extensive overview of Swedish municipalities’ place-marketing engagement to attract migrants and to provide an initial evaluation of whether this engagement is successful or not.

II.                             The second paper aims to further advance the evaluative effort by focusing more specifically on place marketing campaigns directed towards the Stockholm region carried out by rural municipalities.

If, as argued earlier, people increasingly place more emphasis on factors other than employment opportunities when making migration decisions, it might be the case that people will migrate to enjoy life in places offering more stimulating leisure activities. Then, it could be hypothesized that places drawing many tourists will also be successful when it comes to attracting migrants, since people choose to visit these places in their leisure time. 

III.                          The third paper aims to explore the effect of tourism on interregional migration in Sweden.

There are few empirical contributions supporting arguments such as those mentioned earlier – that factors influencing residential choices and attracting people to particular places have been altered. However, some Swedish survey research, which has attracted considerable attention among policymakers, constitutes an exception (Lundholm et al, 2004). It has claimed that environment-related migration motives are more important that employmentrelated motives as causes for interregional migration (Garvill et al, 2002). This may seem to contradict traditional views on migration as primarily economically driven, but appears to support the notion that the importance of place attractiveness is growing. Therefore, these results clearly deserve more attention in the context of this thesis. Previous research needs to be critically reviewed and the findings supported by further empirical research, particularly as there are some methodological aspects that are problematic.

IV.                          The fourth paper aims to re-examine the migration motives of Swedish interregional migrants.

Irrespective of the extent to which people let their preferences guide them in migration decisions nowadays, such tendencies might become more pronounced in the future and making places more attractive to migrants might therefore be a plausible goal for policymakers. Since place attractiveness is subjectively perceived, it can be expected that there are differences among people depending on who they are and their life situations. This implies that groups of prospective migrants may have similar views on what is perceived as attractive when considering migration. 

V.                            The fifth paper aims to explore what place attributes people would put a high value on if they were to migrate and whether there are any differences in preferences between different population subgroups in terms of demographic, socioeconomic or geographical determinants.

The sixth paper takes as its starting point the fact that most migrants do not seem to have many choice opportunities. Therefore, it might be valuable to approach attractiveness by way of focussing upon migrants who seem to have had at least some choices when deciding upon their destination. Such an approach would provide a different perspective and hopefully also a better understanding of place attractiveness.

VI.                          The sixth paper aims to examine what it is that makes some places appear more attractive than other places in a migration context, in order to arrive at a conceptual framework whereby place attractiveness can be better understood.

However, since it mainly, albeit not exclusively, approaches attractiveness from a stated preference perspective by way of interviews, the discussion of the sixth paper is widened somewhat in this summary in order to make a broader conceptualisation that also takes into account the perspective of migration flows between places.