Lifestyle Migration

See the Lifestyle Migration in East Asia Project Blog

The past few decades have seen a rise in the numbers of people around the world who move for quality of life reasons rather than in search of work, better economic opportunities, safety or security. There are not the statistics available (for various reasons) to prove that Lifestyle Migration has been growing, but diverse trends across the globe have attracted the attention of a range of different academics, and we have noted many similarities. See the edited collection I have written with Michaela Benson for some examples (link).

Lifestyle Migrants are people who are relatively affluent. This does not necessarily mean they are rich, but neither are they migrating as a result of poverty or economic hardship. In many cases they move from countries that are economically stronger (like the US or France) to countries that have relatively weaker economies (like Mexico or Morocco). Lifestyle migrants can be any age, but they tend, on average, to be older and many are retired or semi-retired. They sometimes move permanently and sometimes only semi-permanently, to their new, or second, home. However, they are migrants, not tourists. The main reason lifestyle migrants move is to improve their quality of life. This is difficult to define as most migrants could be seen to be in search of a better way of life, so Michaela Benson and I have tried to be more explicit about what is distinctive about Lifestyle migration as opposed to labour migration, asylum seeking, forced migration and other forms of migration. We have looked at the many studies that have been done in this field and tried to identify the commonalities.

The search for the good life

Lifestyle migrants share in common a search for ‘the good life’ that is not considered to exist in their home countries. They are drawn to what they describe as the slow pace of life, a cheaper cost of living and low property prices, a healthy climate, freedom from the pressures of modern living, and a strong sense of community. They often condemn their own, home, countries for their fast pace of life, high crime-rates, greyness, cold, damp, and poor quality of life, and many believe that by moving away they are escaping ‘the rat race’.

Lifestyle migration is not about finding work or a new adventure so much as about finding your true self. So, those lifestyle migrants who need to work tend to do so in order to fund a better, slower quality of life. Work is a means to an end, and they often work for themselves or in small tourism-related businesses such as bars and restaurants, or doing the odd bit of painting and decorating.

The search for idyllic places

We have identified different types of lifestyle migration depending on the sorts of destination that people are attracted to. For example, some engage in a form of ‘residential tourism’, others search for the ‘rural idyll’, and others still could be considered ‘Bourgeois Bohemians’. Residential tourists are those who have settled in coastal areas or islands that have already attracted a lot of tourism. We think of these as having turned the tranquillity and escapism of some kinds of tourism into a way of life: the British in Spain and Turkey, and North Americans in Costa Rica, for example. Those in search of the rural idyll prefer the countryside, perhaps thinking it offers the chance to step back in time to a more simple life, where people lived off the land in tight-knit communities: Northern Europeans in France, for example. Bourgeois Bohemians, alternatively, look for creative, artistic or spiritual places and for cultural experiences, the opportunity for self-realisation or alternative ways of life. Here we are thinking of certain Westerners who return regularly to Varanasi, India or those who see themselves as nomads returning regularly to Mykonos, Greece, for examples.

O’Reilly, K. and Benson, M. 2009. ‘Lifestyle Migration: Escaping to the Good Life?’ in Benson and O’Reilly (eds) Lifestyle Migration. Expectations, Aspirations and Experiences, Farnham: Ashgate

Benson, M. and O’Reilly, K. 2009. Migration and the search for a better way of life: a critical exploration of lifestyle migration, Sociological Review, 57(4): 608-625

Benson. M. and O’Reilly, K. (Eds)2009. Lifestyle Migration. Expectations, Aspirations and Experiences, Ashgate.

5 thoughts on “Lifestyle Migration

    • Hi Clare Jane. I am not sure one form of migration necessarily has relevance UPON another, but I do think it is important to add more elite forms, and those that go in opposite geographical directions than we are used to thinking about, to the general knowledge about migration. Lifestyle migration causes us to think about other forms of migration in different ways and to challenge assumptions about migrants and they ways in which they are received. What did you have in mind when you asked the question? I would love to hear your thoughts.

      • First of all thank you so much for your response. I suppose I should give some further background to my inquiry; currently I am studying migration as a fourth year undergraduate in Trinity, Dublin and one of the recurring themes of our lectures has circulated around the seemingly impossible notion of stable and durable migration theories, to paraphrase Castles and Miller, “it is crucial to re conceptualise as a complex process” however with further and further forms of migration becoming recognised what impact do these newer forms of migration have upon broader theories? Do you think a re conceptualisation of migration to include social, economic, labour, lifetsyle, consumption etc is possible especially when interdisciplinary approaches are now imperative as well? Or in its stead would you favour a flexibility of neo-classical theories to adjust and fit new and evolving patterns of migration as they present themselves? I suppose simply put how do you keep up?!
        Kind regards,
        Clara Jane Manning.

      • Yes, I see your problem now! Suffice to say, I realise how complex it all is because I have written a whole book on the subject – International Migration and Social Theory. I don’t mean to plug it, but you might find chapters 2 and 3 helpful if you can get hold of the book through your library.

  1. Pingback: Colabores | El efecto Lambert o cómo aprender de los migrantes a construir un hogar

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