Academic journal article Demographic Research

Family Migration and Mobility Sequences in the United States: Spatial Mobility in the Context of the Life Course

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Family Migration and Mobility Sequences in the United States: Spatial Mobility in the Context of the Life Course

Article excerpt


Significant changes in family composition in the past quarter-century raise important questions about life-course outcomes embedded in these family changes, especially in relation to the migratory and mobility patterns of individuals and families. The classic distinction between long-distance/employment and short-distance/housing-related moves may be eroding. Patterns of movement appear much less dichotomous and more diverse as family structures become more diverse. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics this study shows that the previous research, which suggested relatively simple links between long-distance and short-distance moves, is an over-simplification. Moreover, there is much more unintended movement at both migratory and mobility scales suggesting the economic models of employment migration may be missing important family dynamics in the migration mobility process.

1. Introduction

Migration and residential mobility are integral parts of societal change and American individuals and households, perhaps more than in any other society, are especially mobile and have always been so. Even though mobility has declined slightly, with an aging society, mobility rates are still significantly higher in the United States than they are in most European societies. But whether it is mobility in American urban areas or European cities, mobility and migration have always been of great interest to spatial demographers, because it is the outcomes of migration and mobility that change neighborhoods and cities. Most recently, the outcomes of literally thousands of mobility decisions made every year can be seen in the fundamental changes in ethnic neighborhoods, as cities in America, and indeed in Europe, react to the impact of fundamental shifts in international migration and their local outcomes.

Geographers and spatial demographers have developed a rich research literature on migration and residential mobility. We know a great deal about why people move and about the processes of choice that they engage in during the migration and mobility process. Now the research on migration and mobility has been enriched by placing it within the framework of the life course. The life-course approach to residential mobility and migration focuses on the link between life events and the intersection of these events with spatial outcomes. More than a decade ago, Odland and Shumway (1993) and Mulder and Wagner (1993) drew attention to the inter-dependencies between migration and other life events, especially marriage. Their research and the work that followed asked about the connections between marriage, the birth of children, divorce, and other life changes and residential mobility and migration.

Geographers in particular, but spatial demographers too, have been particularly concerned to relate the changes in the life course to geographical outcomes. Geographers have argued that the spatial outcomes are as important as the processes of migration itself. Places change as people enter and leave them and if the composition of the population entering a particular location is different from the composition of the population already there then there will be a variety of ramifications for that community or neighborhood. Thus, when families with children move into a community, there will be demands for schools and facilities that serve young families. In contrast, in those communities with increasing numbers of older people there will be demands for very different kinds of facilities and access. These simple examples indicate the potential of mobility and migration to change places.

However, changes occur to individuals in households, as well as to neighborhoods. We know from earlier research that families who move often undergo composition changes, either in association with the move or as an outcome of the move. Women leave and enter the labor force as part of the family migration process. Households expand and dissolve often in association with long-distance moves. …

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