People’s appetite and eagerness to move varies hugely across the world. Finns are nearly 10 times more likely to change their address in any given year than Russians. People in the US and South Korea are at least five times more likely to move in a five-year period than their counterparts in Spain and India.
Mobility has economic benefits. When people are willing to move for work, it leads to lower unemployment and more workers in higher paying, productive jobs. Many economists believe that slower growth in the US over the past decade can partly be attributed to a decline in geographic mobility.
Although researchers have long understood that countries differ in their patterns of internal mobility, good estimates of just how much they vary was not known until recently. Now, as a result of a heroic feat of data collection led by researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia, we can finally make cross-country comparisons (pdf). Based primarily on population registers and household surveys, the researchers estimated of likelihood of moving over five years for 60 countries. The data mostly come from measurements done in the 2000s—not all from the same years, but mobility numbers rarely change significantly in short timespans.
The characteristics most associated with mobility are wealth, urbanization, and literacy—the higher these are, the more movement there is within a country. Levels of mobility are also higher in the Western Hemisphere, which demographers think could be down to the shorter histories of countries in that half of the world.
Elin Charles-Edwards, one of the authors of the research, says that there is still a great deal we don’t understand about why mobility is so much greater in some countries than others. For example, South Koreans are twice as likely to change addresses within five years than Japanese, as are Argentinians in relation to Brazilians. Charles-Edwards and others are now working with national migration experts to explore the cultural and economic reasons why people move at such different rates in countries that otherwise share many other characteristics.