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.