Research Programme

Moving on and moving up: the implications of socio-spatial mobility for partnership and fertility

Vernon GaylePaul BoyleElspeth GrahamMarina Shapira 

Project summary


The overall aim of the project was to investigate links between social mobility and spatial mobility, and to better understand family migration against the backdrop of household change from a ‘breadwinner’ to a ‘dual-earner’ model. The project aimed to link social and geographical mobility with other important demographic factors such as partnering and fertility, by mainly focusing on family migration and labour market participation, and migration and union dissolution.


The project involved the statistical analysis of a large-scale nationally representative social survey, the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), a representative sample which began in 1990, interviewing approximately 10,000 adults who were living in approximately 5,000 households. A large part of the project involved the construction of a suitable data resource that would support analyses of migration and other household demographic changes. The central focus of the study was respondents in couples. The project has produced a unique BHPS duration-based data resource on partnership, fertility, migration and household demographic change. Conventional cross-sectional statistical models from the GLM family have also been applied, as well as models that are suitable for discrete-time and continuous-time data analysis.

The construction of a suitable BHPS duration-based dataset on partnership, fertility, migration and household demographic change was a major challenge. A number of unforeseen and difficult data construction problems were encountered. These problems have been satisfactorily resolved, and the project team will be submitting relevant command files and data files to the Economic and Social Data Service archive.


The findings do not support the theoretical claim that couple migration for one partners’ employment has a harmful effect on the relationship, and therefore on the stability of the union, because the other ‘trailing’ partner experiences less favourable labour market conditions at the destination.

However, family migration generally has a negative impact on women’s employment status. Instead of relying on the distance moved to distinguish employment-related migrations, this study used information on the reason for moving. This has allowed investigations into both employment-related moves, instigated by the man or the woman, from other moves. Moving for the man’s job has a significant negative effect on subsequent employment status for previously employed women. Women who were not employed previously benefited only slightly from family migration. The study found that although the migration history of the partners is associated with increased union instability, this negative effect is short-lived. Long distance migration is not associated with increased union instability. In addition, some short distance residential mobility (e.g. moves to improve accommodation) has a positive impact on union stability.


Project activities

Date Activity Description
2-3 July 2012 Presentation at the "Innovative Perspectives on Population Mobility, Immobility and Well Being" Joint ESRC Centre for Population Change and the Population Geography Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society Institute of British Geographers Conference which was held in St Andrews. The paper ‘Moving on and moving up: The implications of socio-spatial mobility for union stability/dissolution’ written by Marina Shapira, Vernon Gayle and Elspeth Graham was presented at this conference.



Boyle, P.J., Feng, Z. and Gayle, V. (2009) A new look at family migration and women’s employment status Journal of Marriage and the Family, 71, 417–431.


Media activities

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