Reverse migration and COVID-19
How will migrations to rural settings will shape the future labour markets?
While the First Industrial Revolution brought a large influx of labour force to the cities from the countryside, the COVID-19 outbreak has reversed the traditional migratory patterns. People are fleeing high density areas for rural areas in fear of contracting the virus, as evidenced by their relocation to lower density areas within the city or its outskirts (Salama, 2020). Given these considerations, the growth of online learning and telework is expected to shape the future implications of educational and job opportunities. As a result, the “reverse brain drain” may increase population homogenisation and reduce the rural and urban socio-political inequalities between urban and rural areas.
What role did the movement of migrants played in the United Kingdom during Industrialisation?
The lack of industrial activity during the 19th century in the United Kingdom led to an ongoing social trend social trend of emigration to larger cities, holding higher prospects of future developments and job opportunities. The early 20th century was characterised by a period of economic growth arising from the industrial expansion which determined the migratory patterns in the United Kingdom. According to Iversen and Soskice (2019), the process of democratisation in protoliberal countries enhanced the gradual industrialisation which required skilled labour and the diversification of production. The investment and channelled funds towards the country’s major cities resulted in an unequal distribution of resources, services and opportunities. Due to this factor, the capitals of provinces and larger cities suffered an expansion due to the increasing demand for unskilled-workers in the industrial labour market. On the other hand, the rural population tended to display high levels of ageing and over-ageing, with mostly male active workers due to the lack of equal opportunities for women in the rural labour market.
In this framework, liberal market economies compelled the training of skilled workers as a result of technological transfer caused by industrial expansion. Education for young people would not only increase their knowledge of job opportunities, but would also improve their ability to negotiate working conditions and pay rates. Consequently, as the economy demanded higher levels of education, city life gradually became an appealing option in terms of educational and training opportunities.
Reverse brain drain and revitalisation of rural areas
According to Llorent-Bedmar et al. (2021), many rural areas have lagged behind the digitalisation process, making teleworking or distance learning impossible due to the poor quality Internet connections. Furthermore, land abandonment has resulted from an ageing population and a lack of agricultural labour.
Prior to COVID-19, most rural areas followed the traditional migratory pattern. As a result, the “empty-Spain” phenomenon has been defined by young workers’ decision to migrate to major cities and their immediate surroundings, causing rural areas to lose many of their inhabitants (Llorent-Bedmar et al. 2021). Young people in the Celtiberian highlands come up against greater obstacles than those living in cities like Madrid, such as the availability of infrastructure, prevailing conditions on the labour market, and the search for better services.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the labour market has shifted towards telework. The benefits of remote working have altered global human mobility, which is likely to have serious implications for the future design of labour markets. This implies that the traditional pattern of increasing urbanisation, existing high-urban density, and the benefits of urban life will suffer a persistent transformation (Salama, 2021). The return of migrants to rural areas provides opportunities for socio-economic development, as well as aiding in the prevention from rural youth migration to urban areas. The various lockdown regulations enacted to halt the spread of COVID-19 pandemic have enabled the possibility of experimenting with new remote working resources, providing viable alternatives to the on-site working model (Llorent-Bedmar et al. 2021). This would allow knowledgeable people and skilled workers to return to rural areas, allowing for positive changes in the aftermath of the current pandemic (Boillat and Zähringer, 2021). Employees can now work remotely thanks to the adoption of flexible working hours, giving them the opportunity to improve their technological skills. Similarly, online teaching may result in the homogenisation of educational opportunities across Spain; accelerate the ambitions in education, as well as the acceleration of educational ambitions and the improvement of monitoring of teaching standards. After all, we may be witnessing a “reverse brain drain”, implying the start of a transition from a society marked by increasing regional divide to one marked by population homogenisation.
In conclusion, the new-onsite working model exemplifies the ever-changing nature of migratory patterns. The growing demand for industrial labour and promising educational opportunities necessitated migration to urban centres in the run-up to the Industrial Revolution. Nonetheless, it is possible to see how the labour market can take an uncertain turn. Whether this pattern continues or is a one-time occurrence, the “reverse brain drain” of talent migration away from major cities as a result of COVID-19 warrants further investigation.
Boillat, S. and Zähringer, J. (2021). COVID-19, reverse migration, and the impact on land systems | Global Land Programme. [online] Glp.earth. Available at: https://glp.earth/news-events/blog/covid-19-reverse-migration-and-impact-land-systems
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Iversen, T. and Soskice, D. (2019) Democracy and Prosperity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Llorent-Bedmar, V., Cobano-Delgado Palma, V. C., & Navarro-Granados, M. (2021).The rural exodus of young people from empty Spain. Socio-educational aspects. Journal of Rural Studies, 82, 303–314. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2021.01.014
Moehling, C. M and Thomasson, M. A. (2020) ‘Votes for Women : an economic perspective on women’s enfranchisement’ The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 34:2, 3–23.
Salama, A., 2021. After coronavirus: how seasonal migration and empty centres might change our cities. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/after-coronavirus-how-seasonal-migration-and-empty-centres-might-change-our-cities-139439