Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

The spatial mobility of workers over the course of their working lives – Analyses for rural areas in Germany


Business Crowd, Dark Commute (c) higyou -
Migration between urban and rural area (© higyou -

The local availability of human capital is of high importance for the economic development of rural areas. In particular in times of demographic change, the spatial mobility of labour is a crucial determinant of the human capital endowment of a region.

Background and Objective

In Germany, significant regional disparities have existed for a long time w.r.t. economic strength and labour market conditions. The mobility of labour is of high importance for the economic development of rural areas and regional disparities.

Therefore, this project analyses migration balances of rural areas in Germany and the determinants of interregional labour mobility. In particular, it focuses on the spatial mobility of workers over their individual working lives, i.e., the likelihood to emigrate from a rural area, to immigrate to a rural area, and subsequent return migration.


We analyse migration balances of regions and the determinants of labour mobility in Germany.

At the regional level, we do not only consider net-migration rates, but also look at gross-flows. We analyse the heterogeneity of migration balances depending on individual characteristics such as age and educational degree in order to obtain insights on how the human capital endowment of a region changes due to interregional labour mobility.

The analysis of individual decisions to migrate focuses on the likelihood to emigrate from a rural area and the likelihood of return migration. Furthermore, we analyse mobility between different types of regions. We take characteristics of the workers and the regional environment into account and analyse the extent to which the impact of these characteristics changes over an individual’s working life.

Data and Methods

Our analyses are based on secondary data: the Individual Employment Biographies (IEB) of the IAB. We analyse the very detailed information contained in the IAB individual employment biographies of workers by applying descriptive and micro-econometric methods.

Our Research Questions

  • Which (rural) regions are especially characterised by net-emigration? Which (rural) regions benefit from interregional labour mobility?
  • What are the determinants of the likelihood to emigrate from a rural area, respectively, to migrate between different types of regions?
  • To which extent is the regional human capital endowment affected by the spatial mobility of workers?
  • What are the determinants of return migration?

Preliminary Results

So far, our analyses show, that migration balances of rural regions are not per se negative, but are characterized by a marked heterogeneity and results of the migration balance between rural and non-rural areas fluctuate during the period of observation (2000-2017). Regional migration balances also differ by the observed groups of individuals. Migration flows of employees with mandatory social security show significant patterns of suburbanisation that result in a net flow into rural regions between 2014 and 2017. Rural areas surrounding large cities particularly benefit from these patterns. In contrast, migration balances of some very rural areas with less favourable socio-economic conditions hint to disadvantageous demographic developments.

As regards return migration within Germany to previous residential locations our analyses show that return migration accounts for 27 percent of all migration across regions in the timeframe of 2004 to 2017. However, the importance of return migration for the overall volume of migration varies across different groups of individuals as well. The significance of return migration measured as the share of return migration to overall in-migration is relatively high for rural areas (31 percent). Its relevance is particularly pronounced for regions that are located further away from agglomerations, especially rural areas in Eastern Germany and those with less favorable socio-economic conditions.

Links and Downloads

Project at the IAB:


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners


3.2018 - 9.2021

More Information

Projekt type:
Funding program: Bundesprogramm Ländliche Entwicklung
Project status: ongoing

Publications to the project

Results 1 - 5 of 6

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  1. Stiller J, Meister M, Niebuhr A, Peters JC (2021) Die Rückwanderung von Arbeitskräften mildert die demografische Herausforderung vieler ländlicher Regionen nur selten [online]. IAB-Forum(28. Mai 2021), zu finden in <> [zitiert am 31.05.2021]
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 1376 kb
  2. Stiller J, Ohlhoff M (2021) Rückkehrinitiativen in Deutschland: Eine Erhebung für den Zeitraum 2001 bis 2018. Braunschweig: Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut, 37 p, Thünen Working Paper 177, DOI:10.3220/WP1622454244000
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 770 kb
  3. Stiller J, Meister M, Niebuhr A, Peters JC (2021) Zur Binnenwanderung von Arbeitskräften in Deutschland: Was zeichnet Regionen mit positiven Wanderungssalden aus? Braunschweig: Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut, 75 p, Thünen Working Paper 176, DOI:10.3220/WP1622453382000
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 3327 kb
  4. Meister M, Stiller J, Niebuhr A, Peters JC, Hinrichsen PL, Reutter P (2020) Zur Rückwanderung von Arbeitskräften in die ländlichen Regionen Deutschlands: deskriptive Befunde. Braunschweig: Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut, 59 p, Thünen Working Paper 144, DOI:10.3220/WP1588052806000
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 2498 kb
  5. Meister M, Stiller J, Peters JC, Birkeneder A (2019) Die Binnenwanderung von Arbeitskräften in Deutschland : eine deskriptive Analyse für ländliche Räume auf Basis der Integrierten Erwerbsbiografien (IEB) des IAB. Braunschweig: Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut, 71 p, Thünen Working Paper 132, DOI:10.3220/WP1574415954000
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 7689 kb

Results 1 - 5 of 6

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