Family ties, internal migration and immobility

PGRG Blog #9, February 2018

Clara H. Mulder

Population geographers have played an important role in gaining understanding of migration patterns, processes and outcomes. However, despite a growing research attention to inter-generational care and geographical distances between family members, the role of ties to family living outside the household in internal migration and immobility in industrialised countries has remained understudied. In the new research project ‘Family ties that bind: A new view of internal migration, immobility and labour-market outcomes (FamilyTies)’ I propose a novel perspective on internal migration and immobility: the family ties perspective. This perspective’s point of departure is formed by the premises that family members are important in social networks and support exchange, that face-to-face contact is important to maintaining family relations, and that geographic proximity is crucial to family support and face-to-face contact with family. Based on these premises, I propose to introduce ties to family outside the household into cost-benefit approaches of migration, and to take into account how migration and immobility are related to the linked lives of family members. It is also likely that the role of family ties differs between individuals, between life-course stages, and between contexts.


The FamilyTies project has been designed to carry out an agenda for research on internal migration and immobility that pays due attention to ties to family outside the household. The aim of the project is to identify the role of family ties in internal migration, immobility and labour-market outcomes. The objectives are:

  1. Identifying the role of family ties as a deterrent of migration and key determinant of immobility.
  2. Explaining migration towards family in relation to migration in other directions.
  3. Determining to what extent and for whom family-related motives drive migration and immobility.
  4. Unravelling how individual labour-market outcomes of migration versus immobility differ between (im)mobility related to family ties and (im)mobility due to other factors.

In the project we plan to use geo-coded register and census data containing micro-links between family members, for Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. We will also use survey data for Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA and New Zealand. These will be analysed using advanced applications of hazard regression, logistic regression, linear regression and structural equation models, which take into account the multilevel and multi-actor structure of the data and issues of endogeneity and self-selection. The project is envisaged to provide major new insights into migration, immobility and labour-market outcomes, and input for better predictions and policies concerning migration, population growth and decline, ethnic segregation, labour-market flexibility and family support.

The first findings from the project confirm that, in the UK, having parents living close by is associated with a substantial decrease in the likelihood of long-distance moves. This finding is in itself not completely new; see for example Mulder & Malmberg, 2014, for Sweden. However, the new analyses reveal that this association remains substantial after accounting for seeing the parents weekly and frequent interaction with neighbours – two factors that are also associated with a decreased likelihood of long-distance moves.

The project started on September 1, 2017 and is planned to run until August 31, 2022. More information on the people running the project and on the collaborators, activities, publications and vacancies related to the project can be found on the project website, The FamilyTies project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 740113).


Clara H. Mulder

University of Groningen

Population Research Centre




Mulder, C. H., & Malmberg, G. (2014). Local ties and family migration. Environment and Planning A, 46(9), 2195-2211.


Note: This text (or a slightly different version of it) is also used elsewhere to promote the FamilyTies project.