Annual net migration rates (the numbers arriving and leaving in a single year) are not a very useful measure of medium- or long-term migration trends. This paper looks instead at how people come to and leave England and Wales over the course of their lifetimes (cohort measures). This paints a much clearer picture of the history of migration.
Looking at cohort measures of net migration, we can see that net migration levels in the UK are strongly related to birth rates. In aggregate terms, people's behaviour appears to be very predictable over the course of their lifetimes as a group. This process is remarkably consistent given that it occurs over a time frame of huge economic growth and change. This suggests that net migration trends could be predicted by looking at past birth rates.
This paper argues that levels of net lifetime migration to and from the UK in the last two centuries have largely been determined by UK fertility levels. Read more from Danny Dorling on migration.
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