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Internal Migration

Internal Migration

You probably know someone who has moved before, or maybe even you yourself have moved to another place. It's never easy, even if you're just moving down the block! For those who move farther away, finding new employment, building social circles, and adjusting to a new climate are all challenges they must face. While this activity is pretty ubiquitous, it's actually a form of voluntary migration, and if someone is moving within their own country, that's called internal migration. Keep reading to learn more about internal migration, its causes, and its effects.

Internal Migration Definition Geography

Firstly, it's crucial to distinguish between forced and voluntary migration. Forced migration is when someone leaves home for reasons out of their control, and voluntary migration is when they choose to go of their own free will. If somebody is a forced migrant within their own country, they are considered internally displaced. Internal migrants, on the other hand, voluntarily moved.

Internal Migration: The process of people voluntarily moving within the internal political boundaries of a country.

The leading causes of internal migration are discussed next.

Causes of Internal Migration

People migrate within their countries for many reasons. The causes can be divided into five categories: cultural, demographic, environmental, economic, and political causes.


Within countries, especially large ones like the United States or Brazil, there's a great deal of cultural diversity. In almost every place in the world, the type of lifestyle experienced in a city is very different from the rural parts. Take, for example, someone who's lived in a town their whole life. They're tired of the hustle and bustle and want to move somewhere quieter where they know all of their neighbors. That person might move to a suburb or countryside to enjoy a different cultural experience. The reverse is also true, with someone moving to a city from the country. A person from New York might enjoy the Spanish and Native American culture in New Mexico, so they decide to move there and immerse themselves. All of these are ways in which culture causes internal migration.


People's age, ethnicity, and language are also reasons for internal migration. It's a common trope in the United States that people retire to places like Florida, and it's an example of internal migration due to age. People also move to be in places that speak their language more or reflect their own culture. Francophones in Canada have a history of migrating to the province of Quebec because it has a more familiar culture and is perceived as being more hospitable compared to primarily English-speaking or Anglophone regions of the country.


Perhaps you live somewhere people like to complain about the weather. Harsh winters, severe storms, and excessive heat are all reasons people move to places with more favorable climate conditions. Environmental migration can also be based solely on aesthetics, like somebody choosing to live by the beach because they think it's more scenic.

Internal Migration Dorset beach StudySmarterFig. 1 - The desire to live in scenic places is a motivator for people to migrate internally

With climate change posing a threat to coastal areas around the world, people are also choosing to migrate inland to prevent being impacted by flooding. It's important to distinguish that these types of internal migrants are still voluntary, but once regions become inhospitable due to climate change, they are known as climate refugees, a type of forced migrant.


Money and opportunity are motivators for people to move. Since the industrial revolution, migrants have moved from rural areas to cities in Western nations seeking job opportunities, and countries like China see this phenomenon currently playing out. Moving from one place to another within a country in search of better pay or lower costs of living are major causes of internal migration.

Review the explanations on Spatial Variations in Economic and Social Development to broaden your understanding of how economic productivity varies from place to place nations.


Politics are yet another cause of internal migration. If someone's government is making decisions they disagree with, they might be motivated enough to move to a different city, state, province, etc. In the United States, decisions and laws on hot-button social issues like same-sex marriage or abortion are motivators for people to move to different states.

Types of Internal Migration

Depending on the size of the country, there may be many different regions within it. Take the west coast vs east coast of the United States, for example. On the other hand, countries like Singapore are city-states and there's no migration to a different region. In this section, let's define the two types of internal migration.

Interregional Migration

A migrant who moves between two different regions is called an interregional migrant. The primary causes for this type of migration are environmental and economic. For environmental reasons, people seeking a better climate generally have to travel farther to where there's enough change in day-to-day weather. Also, certain severe weather events like tornadoes are endemic to only certain parts of countries, so it requires interregional migration to avoid them.

Internal Migration Moving truck StudySmarterFig. 2 - Moving trucks are a ubiquitous symbol of internal migration

In the case of economics, the geographic dispersal of natural resources might lead someone to travel outside of their region. A part of a country rich in trees can support a lumber industry, but somebody trying to find work outside of that industry may need to look farther away. Politics is another motivator of interregional migration because somebody needs to leave their own political unit to find a more favorable political climate.

One of the largest interregional migrations in US history was the Great Migration. From the early 1900s to the mid-twentieth century, African Americans from the southern United States immigrated to cities in the north. Poor economic conditions and racial persecution motivated primarily poor farming families to seek jobs in northern urban areas. The shift resulted in the increased diversity of northern cities and more political activism, helping to charge the civil rights movement.

Intraregional Migration

On the other hand, intraregional migration is migrating within the region in which they currently live. Moving within a city, state, province, or geographic region all counts as a form of intraregional migration. For someone moving within their own city, the causes can be more superficial, like wanting a different style of house or apartment. However, the causes can also be economic, like moving to be closer to work. In large, diverse cities like New York or London, internal migration for cultural and demographic reasons also occurs. Moving to a neighborhood dominated by your own ethnicity or a neighborhood where your first language is regularly spoken are examples of this.

Effects of Internal Migration

Internal migration has a host of impacts on countries, changing the dynamics of the economy and how the government provides services to its citizens.

Labor Market Shifts

With each worker leaving somewhere and arriving in another place, the local labor dynamics shift. A carpenter leaving Louisville, Kentucky, for Houston, Texas, changes the supply of carpenters in each city. If the city an internal migrant is moving to has a shortage of workers in their field, then it's beneficial to the local economy. On the flip side, if the city a migrant is leaving from already has a shortage of their type of worker, then it's detrimental to the local economy.

Increased Demand for Public Services

For countries experiencing rapid urbanization from internal migration, the increased demand for things like water, police, firefighting, and schools can create a significant strain on government spending. As cities grow in size and population, infrastructure needs to meet that growth, causing high expenses to build sewer systems and supply electricity, for example. In some cases, people move to cities at a much faster pace than governments are able to hire civil servants like police officers, so there's a mismatch between the residents and the services required.

Brain Drain

When people with higher education leave their homes for somewhere else, that's called brain drain. The United States has a history of highly-educated professionals like doctors and scientists leaving the poorest parts of the country, like Appalachia, for wealthier parts and urban areas. The impacts on the places these people move to are positive, with increased economic prosperity and a more diverse workforce. For the places they leave, the consequences are poor, with needy areas losing people who can help spur economic growth and provide crucial services like medical care.

Internal Migration Example

A current example of ongoing internal migration is the rural-to-urban migration in the People's Republic of China. For most of China's history, it's been a largely agrarian society, with farmers making up the bulk of its workforce. As more factories were built in China, the demand for factory workers increased. Starting in the mid-1980s, a huge swath of rural Chinese citizens migrated to cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Shanghai.

Internal Migration Housing china StudySmarterFig. 3 - The migration from rural to urban parts of China resulted in a housing boom

Internal migration in China is not entirely organic, however. China's government has considerable sway in where people live through something called the Hukou system. Under Hukou, all Chinese households must register where they live and whether it is urban or rural. A person's Hukou determines where they can go to school, what hospitals they can use, and what government benefits they receive. The government increased benefits and eased converting one's Hukou from rural to urban, making moving to cities extra appealing.

Internal Migration - Key takeaways

  • Internal migration is a type of voluntary migration where people move within their own countries.
  • Common causes of internal migration include economic opportunities, the desire to live somewhere with a familiar culture, and seeking a better climate.
  • Interregional migrants are people who move to a different region in their country.
  • Intraregional migrants move within their own region.


  1. Fig. 3 apartments in China (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Typical_household_in_northeastern_china_88.jpg) by Tomskyhaha (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Tomskyhaha) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Internal Migration

The two types of internal migration are:

  1. Interregional migration: migration between regions within a country.
  2. Intraregional migration: migration within a region in a country.

In geography, internal migration is the voluntary migration of people within their own country. This means that they are not leaving their country's borders and are not forced to move.

An example of internal migration is the ongoing migration of people in China from rural areas to cities. Motivated by better-paying jobs and living conditions, people have left the poorer rural areas to work in urban areas.

The main positive effect of internal migration is boosting the economy of wherever the internal migrant is moving to. Parts of the country facing a shortage of a certain type of worker benefit from having those workers choose to migrate there. For the migrant themselves, they might have increased life satisfaction from moving to a more favorable climate or being immersed in a different culture.

Like other forms of voluntary migration, there are push factors and pull factors. Pull factors of internal migration include better employment elsewhere and the appeal of living in a new culture. Push factors can include a hostile political climate and few economic opportunities in their current home.

Final Internal Migration Quiz


Which of the following describes internal migration?

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The process of voluntarily moving within one's own country.

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How is voluntary migration different from forced migration?

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Voluntary migration is undertaken on someone's free will, forced migration is when someone has to leave their home for reasons out of their control.

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Sam decides to leave his city because there's a better job in another state. Which of the following causes of internal migration is motivating sam to move?

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Show question


Jill is fed up with decisions made by her province's government and moves to a different one. Which of the following causes of internal migration is motivating Jill to move?

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Show question


How is interregional migration different from intraregional migration?

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Interregional migration is moving to another region within one's own country, intraregional is moving within one's own region.

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Somebody looking to live in a completely different climate is most likely to be which type of internal migrant?

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Intraregional Migrant.

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Delilah likes a house two blocks away because it has more space and chooses to move there. Which type of internal migrant is Delilah?

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Intraregional Migrant.

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What is brain drain?

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When usually poorer areas of a country lose highly-educated workers to other regions.

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Why might internal migration put a strain on government services?

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Internal migration can cause sudden influxes in population, typically in urban areas, and it's harder for governments to keep pace in providing things like firefighters and sewage connections.

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How has the Hukou system influenced internal migration in China?

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The Chinese government has used the Hukou system to make it easier for people to migrate to cities and provide additional benefits to urban residents as opposed to rural ones. These combine to increase the internal migration from rural areas to cities in China.

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