1Four out of every ten workers in Spain – whether they are in employment or seeking work – would be willing to go to live somewhere else. Of this group, nearly half have concrete plans to change their place of residence within the next year.
2Willingness for mobility is higher among young people, males, people who have not yet formed a family, those born abroad and those in a less stable employment situation or unemployed.
3Work, income and professional career are the main reasons that lead people to consider their mobility, whereas family responsibilities and leaving family and friends behind are the most common obstacles.
4To be acceptable, a job offer far from home requires better remuneration, contract stability and possibilities for professional promotion, as well as favourable job and housing markets at the destination.
The inter-regional mobility of workers is explained, above all, by their employment situation and professional career. Therefore, it is normal that, after the area where they live, most workers prefer a destination where they perceive that there are more and better opportunities.
The decision to move away from the place or region where we live is not an easy one. It involves leaving behind family and friends, and having to adapt to a new environment, but the aim is to improve quality of life. Mobility or migration, therefore, usually has an economic motivation. Furthermore, it is associated with upward social mobility, since it works as a lever for achieving better jobs.
Examining mobility decisions for work reasons is important because it addresses the fundamental problem of how workers are assigned to positions. In Spain this exercise is especially urgent, because the persistent differences between income and occupation between regions has been partly attributed to low migratory flows between regions and their low impact on population redistribution (Adalet McGowan and Antona San Millán, 2019). Therefore, it is necessary to find an answer to questions such as: what type of workers have a greater willingness for mobility? What are the motivations, the obstacles, and the destinations that explain willingness to travel? What should employment conditions be like for people to find them sufficiently attractive to accept job offers elsewhere?
In order to answer these questions, in October 2019 a survey was conducted on the mobility attitudes and expectations of active people aged between 18 and 55 years. Data were collected from 4,008 people from all over Spain (Vidal and Busqueta, 2020).
1. Four out of every ten workers consider going to live elsewhere
Because of the important consequences that it has for the life of workers, mobility or migration is usually the result of a gradual decision-making process (Kley, 2010). Usually three phases can be discerned: (1) considering mobility as an option, (2) making specific plans, and (3) making the move.
The act of considering going to live elsewhere reflects a willingness for mobility before making any decisions. This willingness can be explained by people’s discontent with the life that they lead, their expectation that there will be changes in work, family, or other relevant spheres of life, and the fact of not feeling limited to living only in the current place of residence.
The data reveal that four out of every ten workers have recently considered leaving their place of residence to go and live and work elsewhere. This willingness for mobility is more common when people lack strong roots or responsibilities linked to their place of residence, as is usually the case of young people, men, those who have not yet formed a family, those born abroad, and those who find themselves in a less stable employment situation or, alternatively, unemployed.
Once the decision has been made, the specific plans for moving commence. People who are in this phase have a higher probability of moving. However, there may be a change in the initial circumstances or other obstacles that limit this possibility.
Also, two out of every ten workers from the total of those interviewed are making specific plans to go and live elsewhere within the coming twelve months. This represents approximately half of those who have considered living elsewhere.
2. Employment as the main motivation for going to live elsewhere
Behind each consideration, there are underlying motivations. Among a series of possibilities (lifestyle, family, work, housing, environment, and others), this study confirms that work is the main motivation for mobility, or is most often mentioned as first option. This includes answers from respondents who are considering moving elsewhere to find work, improve their income, or advance in their professional career.
Beyond employment, the diversity of motivations relating to mobility is notable. Other reasons for which workers consider going to live elsewhere are housing, residential environment, and lifestyle.
Some distance behind, we find reasons associated with living close to relatives or, alternatively, changes in family circumstances. This latter reasons includes circumstances such as having children or going to live with a partner, which are usually more associated with changing home within the same area of residence rather than moves to other areas.
Although family reasons are not mentioned as often as the first or main reason, this does not necessarily mean that they are irrelevant when considering mobility, taking into account that, in the decision to go and live elsewhere, usually several reasons coexist (Coulter and Scott, 2015).
3. The majority of workers prefer to remain in the area where they live or, alternatively, to go to live abroad
If we have a certain place in our heads where we would consider going to live, it will always be easier to make the decision. Most workers who consider going to live elsewhere prefer not to move far away: 33% indicate a destination within the same autonomous community in which they live. This preference for nearby destinations is usually explained because the monetary, social and emotional costs that the move involves are smaller.
Next, the following potential flow of mobility thinks about going abroad. Thus, some 30% of workers who consider mobility prefer a destination outside of the national territory. This is the first option – even ahead of their own region – among those who live in Madrid.
Madrid is the main destination in Spain to which workers from other areas in the country would consider going to live: it attracts some 17% of respondents who are proposing to go to live elsewhere.
The other autonomous communities lag some way behind with regard to their capacity to attract workers from other parts of the country. This includes Catalonia which, with the Barcelona metropolitan area at the head, had traditionally been a pole of attraction for workers.
4. Family is the main factor limiting workers’ decisions regarding mobility
There are a series of factors that influence the decision to consider or plan going to live elsewhere and that facilitate the transition from current place of residence to the new destination.
Having a job (oneself or one’s partner) or the perspective of having one is usually one of the most important factors that facilitate the decision to move elsewhere. Similarly, having parents and friends there, having lived there previously, or having a dwelling there are other facilitating factors. This means that considerations regarding mobility can be partly attributed to the desire or need to return to the place of origin.
Despite there being considerations, underlying motivations, and a specific destination, the decision of moving is often limited by a series of obstacles.
Given the residential proximity and support role usually played by the family in Spain, it is not surprising that leaving relatives and friends behind constitutes the main obstacle when deciding to leave. As well as making the break with affective relationships and support, respondents also mention as obstacles circumstances such as having care responsibilities or dependent relatives, as well as the negative consequences that the change of home can have for the lives of children.
The professional situation is another relevant obstacle for mobility. This includes having to leave a job, the uncertainty regarding finding a new job, and having sufficient savings to subsist when arriving in a new place without guaranteed employment.
There are also limitations to mobility related with housing: if we own a property that we have to leave, or whether we will find an adequate place to live at our destination. How deep are our roots? Or: what is our quality of life in our place of residence?
In contrast, few of the respondents explicitly stated that they would not have any difficulties going to live elsewhere.
5. If employment conditions at the new destination are better, willingness to go there to work increases
Beyond dissatisfaction with the employment situation and personal capabilities and obstacles, occupational mobility also depends on the characteristics and availability of employment in the place of residence and elsewhere.
To find out which employment conditions facilitate occupational mobility, we conducted an experiment through which fictitious job offers with similar conditions were assigned to all the respondents. The design of the experiment corrects the fact that not all workers receive the same job offers. This is generally due to differences in the educational level of workers, the type of profession, or responsibilities that limit their willingness to work. They were asked with what probability they would accept five jobs in places that it would take too much time to travel to daily from the place of residence. The results reveal a set of conditions that make some job offers far from home more attractive than others.
An increase in household income significantly raises the probability of accepting a job offer far from home. If the offer involves a permanent contract and many possibilities for promotion, this also makes it more acceptable. The worker’s qualifications matching the professional requirements of the position is relevant, but not as much. Finally, the destination city also has relevance, as value is placed on it not being too difficult to find housing or another job there.
This study shows that the potential for mobility among the active Spanish population is close to 40%, in other words, that four out of every ten workers would be willing to go to live elsewhere. Only half of this group have specific plans for mobility in the near future. There are two possible readings of this result.
Firstly, virtually the majority of those considering going to live elsewhere will not do so due to a lack of opportunities or alternatively due to the obstacles that limit their capacity to take advantage of opportunities arising elsewhere. Among others, the respondents showed themselves to be limited due to family responsibilities or uncertainty regarding work and housing opportunities.
Secondly, some studies show that those who consider mobility as an option start off with a higher probability of being employed and of living in better conditions, without the need to travel (Huinink et al., 2014). This shows that they are not limited to opportunities in the place where they live and that they choose the best opportunities, independently of location.
In general, the reasons that explain mobility are employment situation and professional career. Thus, it is normal that, after the territory where they live, the majority of workers prefer a destination abroad or in Madrid, where it is perceived that there are more and better opportunities. Nevertheless, mobility for employment reasons (or the probability of accepting a job offer far from home) requires not only that there are vacancies, but also that the positions offer adequate employment conditions. The context of labour precarity, marked by high seasonality and low wages, can hinder increased interregional mobility in Spain in the short term. It is probable that many workers will see their expectations of mobility to other places frustrated because they have the perception that there are no opportunities.
It is important to remember that mobility is not just an end in itself, but a tool for achieving the goals of career advancement, having a family life in a more comfortable environment, or improving one’s lifestyle. Furthermore, policies should not have to consider the mobility of workers as an end in itself, but should enable and support citizens in taking advantage of opportunities that arise, without their being obliged to remain in the place where they live or having to leave. For this reason, it is necessary to foment people’s capabilities and qualifications, as well as improve the quality of the jobs and housing markets.
ADALET MCGOWAN, M. and ANTONA SAN MILLÁN, J. (2019), Reducing regional disparities for inclusive growth in Spain. OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1549, OECD Publishing, Paris.
COULTER, R. and SCOTT, J. (2015). «What motivates residential mobility? Re‐examining self‐reported reasons for desiring and making residential moves». Population, Space and Place, 21(4), 354-371.
KLEY, S. (2010). «Explaining the stages of migration within a life-course framework». European sociological review, 27(4), 469-486.
HUININK, J., VIDAL, S. and KLEY, S. (2014). Individuals’ openness to migrate and job mobility. Social science research, 44, 1-14.
VIDAL, S. and BUSQUETA, G. (2020). Manual de la encuesta de actitudes y expectativas de movilidad espacial de la población activa, 2019
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