Migration up and down the urban hierarchy and across the life course

D. A. Plane, C. J. Henrie, M. J. Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


In this article, we begin by reviewing the concept of step migration that originated in E. G. Ravenstein's seminal papers "The Laws of Migration" (1885, 1889). As a result of the forces of the Industrial Revolution underway in 19th century Great Britain, migrants moved from farms to villages, from villages to towns, from towns to county seats, and thence to large cities. Throughout much of the industrialization era in the United States, net population movements similarly were upward within the urban hierarchy, and step migration today remains widespread throughout much of the still developing world. Our investigations of recent data and trends, however, suggest that the latest U.S. migration-pattern regime is a strongly contrasting one. Many of the major movements in the system of internal (or domestic) migration are flows down the urban hierarchy, although we note highly differentiated patterns for persons and households at specific stages of the life course. We make use of the newly defined metropolitan and micropolitan Core-Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) and a seven-level size typology to tabulate origin-destination-specific migration flow data from both Census 2000 and IRS tax-return administrative records for the period 1995-2000. We discuss the causes for net movements being either upward or downward in the national urban hierarchy, including the effects of spatially focused immigration, and movement preferences at various ages, including migration in young adulthood associated with entering and leaving college and the military, as well as moves characteristic of the stages of family formation, childrearing, and retirement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15313-15318
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
StatePublished - Oct 25 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Metropolitan areas
  • Micropolitan areas
  • Population trends

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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