Source: UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA submitted to
RETURN MIGRATION TO GEOGRAPHICALLY DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES OF THE RURAL UNITED STATES
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
TERMINATED
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Annual
Accession No.
0207863
Grant No.
2007-35401-17742
Project No.
MONR-2006-03011
Proposal No.
2006-03011
Multistate No.
(N/A)
Program Code
62.0
Project Start Date
Jan 1, 2007
Project End Date
Dec 31, 2011
Grant Year
2007
Project Director
von Reichert, C.
Recipient Organization
UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION
MISSOULA,MT 59812
Performing Department
(N/A)
Non Technical Summary
Hundreds of communities in rural America, especially communities in sparsely populated, remote locations that lack pleasant climates and scenic landscapes, face the challenge of adjusting to a dwindling population base. The population loss is usually attributed to out-migration of young adults. However, what typically distinguishes rural communities with declining populations from rural places that are growing is the relative size of in-migration streams that counter out-migration. Within the counter stream, returning migrants make up an important part, especially for places that are less likely sought out by new migrants. The purpose of this research is to examine migration counter streams and return migration using a mixed methods approach. Disaggregated, cohort-specific, county-to-county migration flows from three recent Censuses will be used to quantitatively derive a typology of rural counties based on the relative volumes of out- and counter-migration. To gain insight into both reasons for and impacts of return migration, we will use an innovative, qualitative approach of interviewing return migrants at their high school reunions in different types of communities. Following out-migration, return migration likely accumulated human capital in the form of education, work experience and skills. Return migrants may therefore play an important role in replenishing the human capital pool in rural communities. This research will help in better understanding the context for return migration, including the potential of return migration for enhancing community vitality.
Animal Health Component
60%
Research Effort Categories
Basic
40%
Applied
60%
Developmental
(N/A)
Classification

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
8036050209010%
8036099300020%
8036099301015%
8036099308045%
8036199209010%
Goals / Objectives
Objective 1: Measure potential and actual levels of return migration to geographically disadvantaged, rural counties by using a quantitative approach. The relative size of out-migration streams of highly-mobile young adults when compared to counter-streams will be used to develop a typology of rural regions. This typology allows for grouping geographically disadvantaged areas based on migration counter streams. Additionally, the link between these demographic measures and other socio-demographic and economic measures of community vitality will be investigated. Objective 2: Evaluate individual-level return migration decisions and their impact on the vitality of geographically disadvantaged communities by employing an innovative, qualitative approach of interviewing return migrants at their high school reunions. From informal interviews we intend to learn: What motivates migrants to return? How do returning migrants contribute to replenishing human capital lost through outmigration? What are the obstacles and challenges encountered by return migrants, and how can these obstacles be reduced?
Project Methods
To quantitatively capture potential and actual levels of return migration, we will use county-to-county migration files from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Census. We will compare 1975-1980 and 1985-1990 out-migration streams of 15-19 year olds with 1985-1990 and 1995-2000 counter streams of 25-29 year olds and the 1995-2000 counter streams of the 35-39 year olds. The relative size of these cohort streams will be used to derive a migration typology and identify rural counties that have a) strong and balanced out- and counter-migration streams; b) dominant out-migration streams; c) dominant in-migration streams; or d) weak out- and counter-migration streams. A model of expected j-to-i counter streams of 25-29 year olds at time t+10 and of 35-39 year olds at time t+20 is run with the following independent variables: i-to-j out-migration of 15-19 year olds at times t, and a vector of economic and demographic attributes of counties i. To understand the context for return migration, qualitative fieldwork at high school reunions will be conducted. This methodology was pioneered and proven feasible by von Reichert, who in summer 1999 interviewed return migrants by visiting high school reunions in rural Montana. Returning migrants tend to have strong local ties and are highly inclined to attend their reunions. The informal atmosphere of reunions sets an excellent stage for qualitative field research. The privilege to attend high school reunions is based on extensive background work, from contacting high schools to learn of reunion events, to identifying reunion organizers and establishing with them a relationship of trust. From the potentially large set of reunions in geographically disadvantaged communities, those will be further considered that represent a sample of the four out- and counter-migration types identified quantitatively. Reunions in those communities will be visited that can be reached within a reasonable amount of time and at reasonable expense. While attending high school reunions, interviews with return migrants will be conducted to learn of reasons for leaving and returning, and of obstacles to and impacts of return migration. These interviews will subsequently be coded using content analysis software, such as NVIVO.

Progress 01/01/07 to 12/31/11

Outputs
OUTPUTS: OUTPUTS (Activities and Products): In 2007 we focused on defining geographic disadvantage. Two geographic factors seem strongly related to population loss: remoteness and low natural amenities. The economic development literature usually views geographic disadvantage as lack of access to urban services, labor markets, and infrastructure. The migration literature draws on natural amenities as geographic attributes significantly related to population change. Based on these criteria plus netmigration loss, we identified nearly 950 nonmetro counties (study area). 2008 was a crucial year for implementing our method of reaching the study population of previous rural highschool graduates at school reunions. To select sites for field visits in 2008 and 2009 we identified schools in the study area, using GIS overlay. Leaving out the smaller rural 150 HS students, we ended up with nearly 1600 schools, of which close to 1 in 6 were contacted about upcoming reunions and reunion organizers. In summer and fall 2008 and 2009, we visited 27 reunions in 21 communities in 17 states. At reunions, we conducted roughly 300 shorter interviews with returnees, nonreturnees, and stayers, plus over 100 longer interviews with community leaders and returnees outside reunions. With permission, interviews were digitally recorded and later transcribed. Transcriptions were imported to NVivo, a qualitative analysis software, for storage, organization, and analysis of this sizeable qualitative database. 2010 and 2011 were devoted to analyzing and coding text for re-occurring themes, and for writing manuscripts. Analysis and writing are on-going. OUTPUTS (Dissemination): Starting in summer 2007, we presented findings from our work at international, national, regional, and local academic meetings. Students were involved in the process. (For published abstracts of 2011 presentations, please see publications below.) Additionally we made significant efforts to reach out to audiences of rural stakeholders, analysts, professionals, and decision makers in government and businesses. Presentations at academic conferences: NRI Project Directors Meetings: Santa Clara, CA, 2007; Manchester, NH, 2008; Washington, DC, 2009. Association of American Geographers: 2008; 2009; 2010; 2011. NACIS, Missoula, MT, 2008; ESRS, Vaasa, Finland, 2009; ERSA, Lodz, Poland, 2009; GPRM-AAG, Logan, UT, 2009; NWREC, Missoula, MT, 2010; Joint Meeting of AFHS, ASFS, and SAFN, Missoula, MT, 2011; Joint Meeting of RSS and CDS, Boise, ID, 2011. Presentations at stakeholder meetings: HHS Office of Rural Health Policy's All-Programs Meeting in Washington, DC, 2007; USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum, Washington, DC, 2008; Meeting of MAGIP, Miles City, 2009; Rural Community Conference, Bozeman, MT, 2009; Intermountain GIS Meeting, Bozeman, MT, 2010; Economic Research Service/USDA, Washington, DC, 2010; Rural Asset Building Workshop, Bozeman, MT, 2010; University of Montana Foundation Board, Missoula, MT, 2010; Rural Wealth Creation Conference, Washington, DC, 2011; Meeting of the Montana Farmer's Union, Great Falls, MT, 2011; Young Ag Couples Meeting, Helena, MT, 2012. PARTICIPANTS: 1) Christiane von Reichert, Principal Investigator and Project Director: managed research project and grant funds; designed research methodology; conducted field work (community visits, interviews); analyzed qualitative data; presented findings at professional meetings; authored manuscripts; coordinated and oversaw work of research assistants. 2) John Cromartie, Co-PI: involved in fieldwork, analysis, presentations, and production of manuscripts. 3) Robert Gibbs, Co-PI. 4a) Ryan Arthun, Research Assistant: assisted in identifying sites and prepared for community visits; conducted field work (community visits, interviews); transcribed interviews; set-up NVivo database; presented and co-authored presentations at professional meetings; co-authored manuscripts, trained second research assistant. 4b) Joseph Husar, Research Assistant: transcribed interviews, presented at professional meetings. TARGET AUDIENCES: Individuals and organizations interested in rural communities that suffer population loss. Efforts were made to reach beyond academic audiences and share findings with professionals and stakeholder in rural settings as well as decision makers in government and business. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Expiration date extended to 12/31/2011

Impacts
IMPACTS (Outcomes in Knowledge): The goal of the research project was to analyze return migration to geographically disadvantaged rural U.S. communities. To gain insight on what motivates people to move or not move back to rural places, we used a qualitative methodology of interviewing people at their high school reunions. We targeted 10- to 30-year reunions to reach people in the labor force (28 to 48 years old) deliberately leaving our pre-retirees and retirees. By drawing on several hundred interviews, we gained an understanding of return migration decisions. The decision to return or not return is the outcome of a complex process that hinges on a diverse set of individual circumstances, and different local settings. Despite that complexity, common themes emerge. Whether or not people opt to move back depends on 1) the stage of the life course; 2) the locational preferences of the individual including preferences of spouses; 3) the presence of children; 4) the presence and location of parents and other family; 5) employment opportunities; 6) trade-offs between career and family goals; 7) experience of growing up; and more. For the life course stages considered here, migration decisions are remarkably multi-dimensional for both returnees and nonreturnees. Concerns for family, both children and parents, seem to dominate return migration decisions. To allow for a return move, employment must be secured but in most cases employment plays a subordinate role. While some rural returnees turn entrepreneurial, others accept career sacrifices as a condition for securing employment in limited rural labor markets. The social and community context either enhances or discourages the return to the rural home town, depending on people's experiences and residential preferences. Interviews also speak to the impact returning migrants have on rural communities. There is a considerable demographic impact, as most returning households are family households with children. Return migrants also boost the human capital level in their rural hometown, as many left for a formal education usually followed by a period of accumulating work and life experience elsewhere. Limited rural labor markets encourage some rural returnees to turn entrepreneurial, in some instances adding to rural service functions. Rural return migration also enhances social capital by way of social engagement, community involvement, and leadership. However, many nonretrunees (outmigrants who now live elsewhere) tend to be socially engaged as well, suggesting that rural upbringing could instill a sense of commitment to a local community.

Publications

  • Edited Book Chapter: von Reichert, C., Cromartie, J.B., and Arthun, R.O. 2012. Intergenerational relationships and rural return migration. In Rural aging in 21st century America, edited by N. Glasgow and H. E. Berry. Dordrecht: Springer (forthcoming).
  • Peer-reviewed Journal Article: von Reichert, C., Cromartie, J.B., and Arthun, R.O. 2011. Returning home and making a living: Employment strategies of return migrants to rural U.S. Communities Journal of Rural and Community Development 6 (2):35-52.
  • Research Report: McGranahan, David A., Cromartie, J.B., and Timothy R. Wojan. 2010. Nonmetropolitan outmigration counties: Some are poor, many are prosperous. In Economic Research Report 107: ERR-107, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  • Conference Proceedings: von Reichert, C., and Arthun, R.O. 2009. Returning home and making a living. Proceedings of the 49th Congress of the European Regional Science Association, 8/25 to 8/29/2009, at Lodz, Poland.
  • Published Abstract 2011: von Reichert, C. 2011. How return migration helps in building rural wealth. Wealth Creation and Livelihood Conference, 10/3 to 10/5/2011, at Washington, DC.
  • von Reichert, C., Cromartie, J.B., and Arthun, R.O. 2011. Return migrants and their impact on rural communities. Joint Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society and Community Development Society, 7/28 to 7/31/2011, at Boise, ID.
  • Husar, J. 2011. Rural vitality: Case studies of Fort Benton, Montana, and Watford City, North Dakota. Joint Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society and Community Development Society, 7/28 to 7/31/2011, at Boise, ID.
  • von Reichert, C. 2011. Why people move back to rural communities. Paper read at Joint Annual Meetings of Agriculture Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS), Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS), and Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN), 6/9 - 6/12/2011, at Missoula, MT.
  • von Reichert, C., Cromartie, J.B., and Arthun, R.O. 2011. Exploring the impacts of returning migrants to rural community. Association of American Geographers, 4/12 to 4/16/2011, at Seattle, WA.
  • Wall, T., and von Reichert, C. 2011. The role of divorce and loss in return migration to nonmetropolitan counties. Association of American Geographers, 4/12 to 4/16/2011, at Seattle, WA.
  • Arthun, R.O., von Reichert, C., and Cromartie, J.B. 2011. The role of community assets in return migration to rural communities. Association of American Geographers, 4/12 to 4/16/2011, at Seattle, WA.


Progress 01/01/10 to 12/31/10

Outputs
OUTPUTS: Output: Activities and Products. The early part of 2010 was devoted to completing transcriptions of 2009 interviews. Transcriptions were added to the previously created qualitative database (NVivo) made up of interviews conducted in 2008. This combined NVivo database now consists of over 300 short interviews from high school reunions, plus approximately 100 longer interviews with community leaders and return migrants outside high school reunions. We used a coding process to identify themes revealing reasons for leaving rural communities, reasons for returning to rural places, and barriers to returning. Findings from 2009 interviews were largely in agreement with preliminary findings from 2008 interviews: the 2009 conversations from additional communities in different parts of the country affirmed the prevalence of similar themes across rural spaces throughout the nation. Output: Dissemination. We shared findings from our research through presentations at professional meetings at the national, regional, and local level, involving students in several instances: Association of American Geographers Meeting, Washington, DC (von Reichert); Graduate Student Research Conference, Missoula, MT (Husar; Rogers and Arthun). Northwest Regional Economist Rural Communities Conference, Missoula, MT (Arthun, von Reichert, and Cromartie). Additionally, we reached out to communicate our findings to business and community leaders and stakeholders in the state of the Montana and the region: UM Foundation (von Reichert, Arthun, and Husar), Intermountain GIS Meeting, Bozeman, MT (von Reichert; Rogers and Arthun), Economic Research Service, USDA (Cromartie), Rural Asset Building Workshop, Bozeman, MT (Arthun and von Reichert). We also shared research findings through a series of guest lectures at the University of Montana. PARTICIPANTS: Christiane von Reichert, Principal Investigator and Project Director; John Cromartie, co-PI; Ryan Arthun, research assistant, Joseph Husar, research assistant TARGET AUDIENCES: Individuals and organizations interested in rural communities suffering from or concerned about population loss. Efforts were made to reach beyond academic audiences and share findings with professionals and stakeholders in rural settings, as well as decision makers in government and business. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Expiration date extended to 12/31/2011

Impacts
In 2010 we were able to work with the complete set of interview data, collected in summer and fall 2008 and 2009, allowing us to add to preliminary findings from the previous year. Drawing on a large number of data collected in isolated rural communities nation-wide affirmed previous results on the role of life course stages, locational preferences, the presence of children and parents, employment opportunities, trade-offs between career and family, and the role of memories about rural up-bringing. Our findings clearly suggest that for the life course stages considered here, migration decisions are very complex and multi-dimensional for both returnees and nonreturnees. Concerns for family, both children and parents, seem to dominate return migration decisions. To allow for a return move, employment must be secured but in most cases employment plays a subordinate role. While some rural returnees turn entrepreneurial, others accept career sacrifices as a condition for securing employment in limited rural labor markets. The social and community context either enhances or discourages the return to the rural home town, depending on people's experiences and residential preferences.

Publications

  • Published Abstracts: Von Reichert, C. 2010. Intergenerational relationships and rural return migration. Program and abstracts of the annual Association of American Geographers Meeting, Washington, DC, 4/14 to 4/18/2010
  • Von Reichert, C. 2010. Population dynamics in Montana: Patterns and Trends. Program and abstracts of the biennial Intermountain GIS Meeting, Bozeman, MT. 4/19 to 4/23/2010
  • Rogers N., and Arthun, R. 2010. Where have all the people gone Identifying migration fields for geographically isolated lower amenity rural counties. Programs and abstracts of biennial Intermountain GIS Meeting, Bozeman, MT, 4/19 to 4/23/2010; Graduate Student and Faculty Research Conference, Missoula, MT, 4/24/2010
  • Husar, J. 2010. Rural vitality: Case studies of Fort Benton, Montana, and Watford City, North Dakota. Program and abstracts of annual Graduate Student and Faculty Research Conference, Missoula, MT, 4/24/2010
  • Arthun, R, von Reichert, C., and Cromartie, J. 2010. Labor market strategies of return migrants to isolated rural communities. Program and abstracts of annual Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference, Missoula, MT, 5/20/2010


Progress 01/01/09 to 12/31/09

Outputs
OUTPUTS: Output Products: A good portion of 2009 was devoted to building a unique qualitative database from 2008 fieldwork by transcribing and assembling over 200 interviews. Additional interviews conducted in summer and fall 2009 have been added to the database as well, with transcriptions and assembly lasting into 2010. The interview database now consists of over 300 short-to medium-length semi-structured interviews conducted at high school reunions, plus lengthier conversations with community leaders and return migrants outside reunions. Output Dissemination: Throughout 2009, we shared preliminary findings from our qualitative research with audiences at international, national, and regional meetings. A special effort was made to reach beyond an academic audience and to connect with professionals working in rural communities or involved in rural issues. 1) von Reichert, C. Migration and the Push and Pull of Rural Places. Keynote address, Montana Association of GIS Professionals MAGIP, Miles City, March 11-12, 2009. 2) von Reichert, C. and R. Arthun. New Insights on Return Migration to Rural Communities. National meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Las Vegas, March 22-27, 2009. 3) Arthun, R. and C. von Reichert. Staying Connected: Exploring the Relationship Between Local Ties and Return Migration. National meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Vegas, March 22 - 27, 2009. 4) von Reichert, C. The Draw of Rural Home Towns. Panelist at the Rural Community Conference, Bozeman, May 12-13, 2009. 5) von Reichert, C. What Draws People Back to Rural U.S. Communities. Congress of the European Society for Rural Sociology ESRS, Vaasa, Finland, August 17-21, 2009. 6) von Reichert, C. and R. Arthun. Returning Home and Making a Living. 49th Congress of the European Regional Science Association ERSA, Lodz, Poland, August 25-29, 2009. 7) von Reichert, C. and R. Arthun. Barriers and Challenges to Rural Return Migration. Annual Meeting of the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Division of the Association of American Geographers. Logan, Utah, September 25-26, 2009. 8) Cromartie, J., R. Gibbs, and C. von Reichert. Return Migration to Geographically Disadvantaged Rural Communities. Progress Report. NIFA NRI Project Directors' Meeting, Washington, DC, October 22, 2009. 9) plus several lectures at the University of Montana to groups ranging from introductory- to graduate-level students. PARTICIPANTS: 1) Christiane von Reichert, Principal Investigator and Project Director: coordinated and oversaw work of research assistant; conducted field work (community visits, interviews); analyzed preliminary qualitative date; principal author and presenter of findings at professional meetings; work on manuscripts. 2a) Ryan Arthun, Research Assistant: transcribed interviews; identified and prepared for community visits; conducted field work (community visits, interviews); presenting and co-author of presentations at professional meetings; trained research assistant hired in fall 2009. 2b) Joseph Husar, Research Assistant: transcribed interviews. TARGET AUDIENCES: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

Impacts
The year 2009 was the second year of collecting qualitative field data by conducting interviews at high school reunions in rural communities. Interviews are designed to provide insight on what brings people back and what keeps them from moving back to rural towns. Interviews can also help in shedding light on the contribution made by rural return migrants. By employing a thorough screening process (described in the 2008 report) we identified and received permission to attend ten reunion events in eight rural communities in seven states in 2009. Adding these field sites to the sites visited in 2008, we achieved a solid coverage of rural communities nation wide. Preliminary findings based on 2008 and early 2009 community visits show the great complexity of the return migration decision. Despite that complexity, common themes emerge. Whether or not people opt to move back hinges on 1) the stage of the life course; 2) the locational preferences of the individual including preferences of spouses; 3) the presence of children; 4) the presence and location of parents and other family; 5) employment opportunities; 6) trade-offs between career and family goals; 7) experience of growing up; and more. People from rural communities tend to be involved in their current community, i.e. through volunteering and other forms of social engagement. This is a critical benefit of returning migrants to rural home towns. However, outmigrants tend to be engaged as well, suggesting that rural upbringing instills a sense of commitment to a local community. Returning migrants add perspective and innovation, and have appreciation of life in rural communities.

Publications

  • Published Abstracts: von Reichert, C. and R. Arthun 2009. Returning Home and Making a Living. Abstracts of the 49th Congress of the European Regional Science Association ERSA, Lodz, Poland.
  • von Reichert, C. 2009. What Draws People Back to Rural U.S. Communities. Abstracts of the Congress of the European Society for Rural Sociology ESRS, Vaasa, Finland.
  • von Reichert, C. and R. Arthun. 2009. New Insights on Return Migration to Rural Communities. Abstracts of the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers AAG, Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Arthun, R. and C. von Reichert. 2009. Staying Connected: Exploring the Relationship Between Local Ties and Return Migration. Abstracts of the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers AAG, Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • von Reichert, C. and R. Arthun. 2009. Barriers and Challenges to Rural Return Migration. Abstracts of the annual meeting of the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Division of the Association of American Geographers GPRM-AAG, Logan, Utah.
  • Proceedings: von Reichert, C. and R. Arthun. 2009. Returning Home and Making a Living. Digital Proceedings of the 49th Congress of the European Regional Science Association ERSA, Lodz, Poland.
  • Newsletter: Podger, P. 2009. Coming Home. Geographers Study Rural Towns. Research View. A publication of The University of Montana featuring research projects at UM.


Progress 01/01/08 to 12/31/08

Outputs
OUTPUTS: In 2008, we were active in presenting the quantitative and preliminary qualitative findings of our work to a variety of audiences. Oral and poster presentations are as follows: 1) Return Migration to Rural and Small Town America. Paper presented at USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum, Washington, D.C. February 21 2008 (John Cromartie, Robert Gibbs, and Christiane von Reichert). 2) Counter Stream Migration to Geographically Disadvantaged Rural Counties. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Boston, April 15-19, 2008 (Christiane von Reichert, John Cromartie, and Robert Gibbs). 3) Return Migration to Rural Communities. Poster shown at NRI/CSREES/USDA-sponsored poster session held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Manchester, New Hampshire, July 28-30, 2008 (Christiane von Reichert). 4) Return Migration to Geographically Disadvantaged Communities of the Rural United States. Panelist at the Rural Development Project Directors' Meeting of NRI/CSREES/USDA held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Manchester, New Hampshire, July 28-30, 2008 (Christiane von Reichert). 5) Geographic Isolation, Amenities, and Migration: A GIS Approach. Poster shown at the annual meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society, Missoula, Montana, October 8-10 2008 (Christiane von Reichert). 6) In Search of Returning Migrants. Research Presentation at the Geography Colloquium, The University of Montana, October 7, 2008 (Christiane von Reichert and Ryan Arthun). PARTICIPANTS: Not relevant to this project. TARGET AUDIENCES: Not relevant to this project. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

Impacts
The research conducted in 2008 produced quantitative and qualitative outcomes. Concerning quantitative outcomes: The current knowledge of the extent of return migration in the U.S. is limited and tends to underestimate return migration. This partly stems from the use of cross-sectional data from the Census of Population and Housing. However, a few studies using longitudinal data clearly demonstrate that return migration is fairly widespread, although much of it goes undetected in cross-sectional studies. We developed a methodology designed to partly fill the knowledge gap in capturing the extent of return migration by estimating return migration streams from counter streams using the 1990 and 2000 Census. We are focusing on a cohort that is particularly important for rural communities: that is the cohort of 15-19 year olds who tend to move out after completing high school (1985-1990). We use counter streams of 25-29 year olds ten years later (1995-2000) as approximations of return migration, as returning migrants make up at least a part of the counter streams, especially in rural, isolated, and low amenity communities. Concerning qualitative outcomes: Our research is equally important in adding to the qualitative understanding of why people return to a place or region they left earlier. To gain insight on what motivates people to move back, we interviewed people from rural communities at their high school reunion. We visited 13 communities and attended 19 class reunions, including two all-class reunions. To locate and select reunions we employed a multi-stage process starting with a database of approximately 26,000 schools. We narrowed the data down to roughly 3,000 high schools in geographically isolated, low amenity communities nationwide. We contacted nearly ten percent of school offices plus newspapers, city halls, chambers of commerce, community websites, and reunion websites to find out about reunion events and to identify reunion organizers. We targeted 10-, 20-, and 30-year class reunions in order to connect with returning migrants in the labor force, deliberately excluding retirees. We then selected a subset of smaller communities, medium-sized communities and somewhat larger non-metro communities, leaving out the very small towns with a high school population under 150 students. By conducting semi-structured interviews at reunions, we assembled a unique and sizable set of interview data. We also conducted interviews with community leaders and community stakeholders, who showed a remarkable interest in our project. The reunion interviews have been transcribed and we are in the process of systematically evaluating the conversations. We shared preliminary findings at several professional meetings. As a way of reaching stakeholders, the work has also been covered by local media. Additional ways of reaching community leaders will be explored following fieldwork in summer 2009 and our subsequent analysis.

Publications

  • No publications reported this period


Progress 01/01/07 to 12/31/07

Outputs
OUTPUTS: The goal of the research project is to analyze return migration to geographically disadvantaged rural communities using quantitative and qualitative frameworks. The first step in this process is to define geographic disadvantage as it relates to population dynamics and to identify such areas in the rural U.S. Two geographic factors seem strongly related to population loss: remoteness and low natural amenities. Our first paper, Criteria for Defining Geographically Disadvantaged Communities in Rural America, summarizes our findings to date. Results were shared at the following events: 1) The NRI Project Directors meeting in Santa Clara, CA, August 1, 2007, held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society; 2) HHS Office of Rural Health Policy's All-Programs Meeting in Washington, DC, August 27, 2007; 3) Four presentations to multi-disciplinary audiences in Missoula, MT, September-November, 2007. PARTICIPANTS: Christiane von Reichert; John Cromartie; Robert Gibbs TARGET AUDIENCES: Individuals and organizations interested in rural communities that suffer population loss.

Impacts
Geographic disadvantage from an economic development perspective usually refers to lack of access to urban services, urban amenities, labor markets and infrastructure. So defined, geographic disadvantage identifies small towns and sparsely-settled countryside in relatively remote settings. We adopted this definition as one dimension in our work and used: 1) a population gravity model to identify access or lack of access to urban centers; and 2) distance to transportation infrastructure using GIS (Geographic Information System) methods. Both were used to derive scores on a continuum from proximity (advantage) to remoteness (disadvantage). The migration literature incorporates a very different geographic attribute that, as empirical research shows, is closely related to population change: natural amenity endowment. Regions with high levels of natural amenities (mild climates, abundance of sunshine, lakes, and mountains) tend to draw migrants while low-amenity areas often lose migrants. Thus, natural amenities constitute a second dimension, separate from urban proximity, that reveals which communities are geographically advantaged, at least in terms of attracting migrants and jobs. For our work on return migration, we view areas with low levels of natural amenities as geographically disadvantaged. GIS was used to produce 3-dimensional surfaces and 2-dimensional choropleth maps showing levels of geographic disadvantage for counties in the contiguous U.S. We are using findings from this first step to quantitatively measure the relative strength of return migration to advantaged vs. disadvantaged counties, using county-to-county migration data from the U.S. Census. Findings will also be used to help select geographically disadvantaged, rural communities for our qualitative fieldwork.

Publications

  • No publications reported this period