Moving out to move on: Understanding the link between migration, disadvantage and social mobility (The Social Mobility Commission)

The Social Mobility Commission

This publication explores the characteristics of those who leave and remain across the Great Britain. The report shows migration from both poorer and richer areas but those who leave poorer areas are four times more likely to go to areas with similar or higher levels of deprivation. The peak age for movers throughout the UK is the early 20s. Historically, this has reflected moves to study or find work. However, widespread disruptions caused by COVID-19 may reduce such opportunities, particularly for young people, over the next few years.

Those who move are far more likely to have a degree than the wider population – 56% of movers have a degree compared to around 40% of those who stay. Similarly, around 60% of those who move have at least one parent in a higher managerial occupation against around 40% of those who stay. Outcomes for leavers are better than for those who remain. Mean gross real monthly earnings for movers are £2,327, compared with £1,739 for stayers –33% higher.


The project uses mixed methods to investigate the link between internal migration and social mobility. More specifically, it looks at who leaves deprived areas and how that varies across Great Britain; how much employment outcomes vary between those who leave and those who stay; whether life improves for those who migrate; the impact of outward migration on those left behind; and the reasons people stay or choose to leave deprived areas.

Main findings

  • People from a higher socio-economic background are the most geographically mobile group
  • Internal migration does not equalise opportunity between deprived and affluent areas, as migration flows are higher between areas with similar levels of deprivation. Migration outflows from the most deprived areas are mainly directed towards other deprived areas. An individual from a poor community is four times more likely to move to another deprived area than somewhere with better opportunities
  • Movers experience better employment outcomes than stayers. Movers, including those moving from the most deprived areas, are more likely than stayers to be employed; to be employed in a higher-level occupation; and to earn more. These differences are partly explained by movers being more highly educated, from higher socio-economic backgrounds and more economically motivated than stayers. The picture is less rosy for those who stay behind. Men who stay in the most deprived regions are over 14 percentage points less likely to be employed at the highest occupation levels, compared with men who move on. And women stayers are nearly 8 percentage points less likely to be employed in professional or technical occupations, compared with women movers.
  • The differences between the employment outcomes of movers and stayers from disadvantaged backgrounds are more significant than differences in employment outcomes between movers and stayers from affluent backgrounds. Although movers from all backgrounds have better employment outcomes than stayers, moving matters more for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Unemployment is higher among stayers (8.2%) than movers (3%). And in terms of socio-economic progression, only 30% of stayers from a routine and manual socio-economic background reached higher managerial or professional occupations, compared with 47% of movers from similar backgrounds. The difference in employment outcomes between those who stay and those who move from disadvantaged backgrounds is more significant than the difference between moving and staying for people from more advantaged backgrounds.

Employment outcomes

Overall, more of those who moved (88%) were in employment than those who stayed (82%). Employment outcomes also varied between movers and stayers. Almost three-fifths of movers (59%) were employed in a higher managerial or professional occupation, but only 39% of stayers. Unemployment was higher among stayers than movers, while employment was higher for movers than stayers. Finally, the average gross real monthly earnings figure for movers was £2,327 but £1,739 for those who stayed.

When controlling for socio-economic background, movers still outperform stayers. Nearly half (47%) of movers from a routine and manual socio-economic background are employed in higher managerial or professional occupations, compared with 30%of stayers from a similar background. The differences in socio-economic status between movers and stayers is also striking for individuals from a higher managerial or professional background. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of movers from that group end up in higher managerial or professional occupations themselves, while less than half (49%) of stayers in that group obtain a higher managerial job.


Among the policy suggestions and considerations for decision makers is the call for local authorities and employers to work with colleges and training providers to identify and correct mismatches between local skills and local needs. This should enable effective and dynamic reskilling programmes where necessary and provide the basis upon which public and private sector institutions will have the confidence to relocate. In particular the authors draw attention to whether there is enough engagement between colleges and employers to ensure smooth transitions between education and employment.

Read the full report here.