Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Family and Social Networks Considered in an Examination of Exurban Migration Motivations

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Family and Social Networks Considered in an Examination of Exurban Migration Motivations

Article excerpt


Exurbia is the low-density residential landscape beyond the built-up suburbs around central cities. Exurbia is important to scholars, bureaucrats, and businesspeople because it is home to a large and growing proportion of the population of the United States (Clark et al. 2009, Mackun 2009, Beruhe et al. 2006, D. G. Brown et al. 2005, Fulton et al. 2001, Heimlich and Anderson 2001). Those who wish to understand, provide government services for, and sell products to exurbanites are keenly interested in knowing why Americans move to exurbia.

Researchers have identified urban decay, housing affordability, and natural amenities as three key reasons why Americans move to exurbia. There are undoubtedly additional undiscovered reasons why people move there. This paper investigates a previously seldomexamined potential exurban migration motivator: family and social networks. Migration networks have been extensively studied in international contexts but research has yet to thoroughly apply networks in investigating internal movements to exurban areas. Specifically, this paper asks: are family and social networks attracting migrants to exurbia?


Exurbia is important because it has been growing for the past several decades. This growth has resulted in a sizeable exurban population. From 2000 to 2007, the number of persons living in outlying exurban counties around metropolitan statistical areas grew by 13.1 percent (Mackun 2009). In comparison, the number of persons living in central counties, containing cities and suburbs, grew at a slower rate of 7.8 percent, while the country's population as a whole increased only 8.2 percent during this period (Mackun 2009). Regionally, the population of outlying counties grew faster than that of central counties in all regions of the country except the Northeast (Mackun 2009). In 2007, approximately 12.2 million Americans lived in exurbia, up from 10.8 million in 2000 (Berube et al. 2006). Exurbia's large population and area has the potential to affect changes in the economy, society, government, and environment (A. Nelson 1992). Among those changes are employment decentralization, farmland and open space development, increased costs of publicly provided goods, rises in traffic, and growing energy consumption. Citing these reasons, we submit that it is important for scholarly research to understand the reasons behind exurban growth.


Family and social networks are among the primary factors influencing the decision to move (Boyd 1989, Massey et al. 1994). The family and social network approach, when considered, is commonly applied to international migration, especially from Latin America to the United States (Massey et al. 1994). Family and social networks are important because migrants do not pick locations at random; rather, migrants use ideas and resources from family and friends that facilitate their moves (D. L. Brown 2002, Stockdale 2002). Family members, especially those living in another location, are important because they can provide information about another place and thus are likely "to influence residential choice" (Mulder 2007, 270). Family members living elsewhere "may induce people to move in their direction" (Mulder and Cooke 2009, 300).

Labor migrants become aware of potential destination locations through their multiple contacts in multiple places (Wilson 1994). Some researchers have posited that people living in non- western societies assign greater importance to family and have larger networks than their western counterparts (Khanum 2001). These migrants retain strong family and social networks even after migrating to the west (Liefbroer and Mulder 2006).

Still other researchers argue that migrant family and social networks are variable in form and function and can enrich a wide array of migration studies, even when examining internal migration in the developed world (Dawkins 2006, D. …

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