Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Economic change and internal population dynamics: an innovative study of new residential mobilities in Scotland

Project Number:



David McCollum (University of St Andrews)
Annemarie Ernsten (University of St Andrews)
Zhiqiang Feng (University of Edinburgh)

Start Date:

May 2016



One of the greatest contemporary challenges facing the social sciences is making sense of the ramifications of the ongoing global financial crisis which began to emerge in 2007 (ESRC, 2009). Another issue of current widespread salience is the issue of migration, with scholars proclaiming an unprecedented ‘age of migration’ (Castles and Miller, 2009) in terms of the scale and significance of population mobility.

Research has shown how the recession has affected the dynamics of international immigration to the UK. However, comparatively little is known about patterns and processes of internal migration in the context of economic uncertainty. A longstanding obstacle to this type of research in Britain is the dearth of data relating to migration in general and residential mobility in particular. This research will use the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS), a dataset that links NHS Central Register (NHSCR) and census data to, for the first time, generate insights into contemporary trends in residential mobility.

This timely research sits within these momentous issues and aims to investigate internal population dynamics in the context of contemporary economic change, and specifically whether the recent recession has produced novel residential mobility trends. In particular the project seeks to shed light on how certain population sub-groups and types of places in Scotland (and the UK generally) have behaved over the course of the economic downturn. This will mainly occur through a creative approach that involves a unique linking of a major administrative dataset, like NHSCR, with the census based Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS). This focus on developing new conceptual and methodological understandings of mobilities sits within and will advance the ESRCs strategic priorities in cities, the new dynamics of work and big data.


The proposed research aims to advance academic and policy understandings of how the recent period of economic recession and uncertainty has affected patterns and processes of residential mobility within Scotland. Mobility practices have implications for policy since the population size and composition of places impacts on issues such as economic competitiveness, service provision and resource allocation. Additionally, the factors that act against people moving in the face of economic ‘push’ or ‘pull’ factors has long been a concern of policymakers. Despite being an important policy issue, surprisingly little is known about the dynamics of internal migration. This research will investigate how population sub-groups and particular types of places have behaved over the course of the economic downturn in terms of mobility patterns. This will be achieved through an innovative analytical approach that mainly involves government administrative datasets that are linked to the decennial national census.

The research, which is potentially of considerable academic, policy and commercial value, has four main research objectives.

  1. A detailed profiling of the mobility characteristics of population sub-groups and geodemographic areas, in order to produce migration propensities and a conceptual typology of residential mobilities.
  2. Elucidation of the significance of place characteristics and (im)mobility behaviour relative to individual attributes in determining occupational outcomes.
  3. To determine whether the recession has produced new residential mobility patterns and whether different population sub-groups have behaved differently, in terms of spatial and occupational mobility, in the recession.


Castles, S. and Miller, MJ. (2009). The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World (4th edition). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

ESRC. (2009). Recession Britain: Findings from Economic and Social Research. Swindon: Economic and Social Research Council.

Fielding, T. (2012). Migration In Britain Paradoxes of the Present, Prospects for the Future. Edward Elgar. Cheltenham.

Findlay, A. McCollum, D. Coulter, R. and Gayle, V. (2015). ‘New Mobilities Across the Life Course: a Framework for Analysing Demographically Linked Drivers of Migration’. Population, Space and Place 21(4). pp 390-402.

Raymer, J. Smith, P. and Giulietti, C. (2011). ‘Combining Census and Registration Data to Analyse Ethnic Migration Patterns in England from 1991 to 2007’. Population, Space and Place 17. pp 73-88.

Rees, P. (2011). ‘The dynamics of populations large and small’. In J. Stillwell and M. Clarke (eds) Population dynamics and projection methods (vol 4). London: Springer. pp 1-28.

Stillwell, J. Boden, P. Dennett, A. (2011). ‘Monitoring Who Moves Where: Information Systems for Internal and International Migration’. In J. Stillwell and M. Clarke (eds) Population dynamics and projection methods. Springer: London. pp 115-140.

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