Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

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

On coming, leaving and staying (KoBaLd): Migration processes and residential location decisions from the perspective of rural areas


Board for playing crossword with keywords of migration research. (c) Annett Steinführer/Heidrun Fornahl
Residential location decisions are by far not restricted to migration but rather encompass a variety of options. (© Annett Steinführer/Heidrun Fornahl)

In the public debate, rural areas are in general terms often described as regions of emigration. We analyse different migration directions and subjective motives in order to create a better empirical basis.

Background and Objective

The decisions for or against residential locations in rural areas should be better empirically presented and understood than in the past, because they are not limited to emigration of certain age and social groups. The diversity of migrations related to rural areas and the decision-making processes on which they are based have so far hardly been systematically researched in Germany. One fundamental deficit is that there is (currently) no large nationwide survey that provides a sound overview of the causes and motivations.

Systematic comparisons between the existing surveys are made more difficult by the fact that, as a rule, a specific study design with only a few superordinate standards is used. The state of research thus presents itself as a disparate and incomplete overall picture with different individual findings, which are difficult to interpret with regard to the general relevance of certain phenomena. In addition, the majority of existing standardised surveys relate to the situation in urban regions and rarely focus on rural areas.

In this project, the migration associated with rural areas is to be investigated using various methods. The project also focuses on decisions to stay in rural areas and on multi-local housing. We concentrate on certain phases of life in which there are regular considerations regarding a change in the place of residence (e.g. beginning of training, starting a family or ending of working life).


  • Module 1: a secondary statistical analysis of data on internal migration across municipal borders (2005-2016)
  • Module 2: household-based biographical interviews to better understand past and present residential location decisions
  • Module 3: standardized questionnaire survey with four subsamples, focusing on three types of migration decisions (within rural areas, rural-to-urban and urban-to-rural migration) and on staying as a fourth option; additionally, multi-local housing is considered as an alternative decision, which was so far barely examined for rural areas
  • Module 4: synthesis of results and formulation of recommendations for practitioners and policy

Data and Methods

Module 1:

  • Data: German migration statistics (2005–2016, based on register data)
  • Methodology: statistical analyses according to different spatial typologies, age groups and nationalities

Module 2:

  • Data: 30 qualitative household interviews on residential location decisions
  • Methodology: semi-structured interviews with narrative parts, coding of transcripts based on category scheme

Module 3:

  • Data: four sub-samples with different migration biographies in rural areas (ca. 800 respondents each)
  • Methodology: standardised questionnaire phone survey, statistical data analyses

Module 4:

  • Data from Modules 1–3
  • Methodology: triangulation of quantitative and qualitative data, expert workshop for validating the research findings

Our Research Questions

  • What trends in migration and, where appropriate, trend reversals can be identified with regard to rural areas in Germany in the period 2005-2016? (Module 1)
  • Which factors are particularly relevant for decisions to leave a certain location or to stay there in distinct phases of life? How are such decisions (re)negotiated within households? (Module 2)
  • How can we differentiate the different types of residential location decisions with regard to the motives, conditioning factors and the social structure of the households? (Module 3)
  • Which conclusions can we draw from the triangulation of different methods with regard to residential location decisions in favour of or against rural areas? (Module 4)

Preliminary Results

As a result of the project a quantification of the different migration processes affecting rural areas can be expected since 2005. Migrations and decisions to stay in different phases of life are better understood than before. This allows for critically reviewing and empirically substantiating prevailing assumptions about the motives, mechanisms and causes of residential location decisions.

By way of an expert workshop to validate the findings and a research summary (brochure) targeted at the general public, the research results and policy recommendations will be communicated to relevant actors in politics, regional development and spatial planning.


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Flyer to the project
Flyer (© Thünen-Institut)


Project flyer: KoBaLd (as of March 2019)

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Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Federal Ministry of Food und Agriculture (BMEL)
    (national, öffentlich)


9.2018 - 8.2021

More Information

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

Publications to the project

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