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SEMIGRA – Selective Migration and Unbalanced Sex Ratio in Rural Regions

The transition from an industrial to a services society and the growing proportion of women in paid employment are not only important aspects of social change, but also influence young people’s migration patterns. Gender-specific differences in migration can create regional “surpluses” of men or women. These demographic imbalances are most frequently to be observed between rural and urban areas and prosperous and shrinking economic regions. Urban regions tend to have a surplus of young women, while a surplus of young men can be observed in thinly settled rural areas and regions experiencing demographic and economic shrinkage.


The most important reasons for out-migration from rural areas by young women apparently include their higher level of education, greater mobility and ambition as well as a preference for urban lifestyles. The survival of traditional gender role images and the paucity of cultural activities in rural areas can be identified as potential push-factors. Other explanations can be found in gender-specific motivation for migration: men tend to migrate primarily for professional reasons and therefore at a later stage, while women tend to migrate for family and educational reasons.

Disproportionately high out-migration rates for young women are threatening to exacerbate existing problems in Europe’s economically underdeveloped regions. Unequal gender ratios can cause economic and demographic shrinkage processes to accelerate dramatically: labour shortages occur, social networks are impoverished and social erosion takes place.

The research project is intended to provide insights into the reasons for and effects of the one-sided out-migration of women from rural regions in Europe. The aims include gathering information about the aims, expectations and needs of young women and men in rural regions. The findings can be used to improve concepts for spatial and regional development taking age- and gender-specific aspects into account.

The following three central issues are addressed by the project:
(1) What significance do young women have for the future of rural regions?
(2) What causes and effects of imbalance gender ratios in younger population groups can be identified in differently structured rural regions in Europe?
(3) What potential can be identified with regard to the demographic, social and economic stabilisation of the regions affected, and what strategies promise to be successful in attracting young people?

The study regions for SEMIGRA are Észak-Alföld, Észak-Magyarország (both in Hungary), Kainuu (Finland), Västernorrland (Sweden) and Saxony-Anhalt (Germany).

Duration of project
Oktober 2010 bis Mai 2012

Project sponsorship
ESPON 2013 European Union Programme


Lead Partner Lead Stakeholder
Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (DE) Ministerium für Landesentwicklung und Verkehr Sachsen-Anhalt (DE)
Project Partners Partner Stakeholder
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (SE) County Administrative Board of Västernorrland (SE)
University of Miskolc, Faculty of Economics (HU) Észak-Magyarország Regional Development Agency (HU)
Centre for Regional Studies of Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HU) Észak-Alföld Regional Development Agency (HU)
University of Oulu, Kajaani University Consortion, AIKOPA (FI) Joint authority of Kainuu Region (FI)
The project addresses peripheral rural regions within the European Union that are characterized by demographic shrinkage, selective out-migration and a deficit of young women in the age-group 18 to 35. These demographic features are supposed to be an indicator for as well as a consequence of socioeconomic fragility. Hence, a deficit of young women is detrimental to territorial cohesion which is an important objective of the EU spatial development policy. A general objective of the project is the provision of knowledge concerning the interrelations between imbalanced sex ratios in early adulthood and socioeconomic development of certain regions.
The main goals of the project are:
  1. to point out if and to which extent regions can benefit from gender-sensitive policy advice and
  2. to create knowledge about the specific needs and expectations of young women and young men in strategy building processes.
Key policy questions:
  • Which strategies are promising to counteract regional and local gender- and age selective depopulation processes and to support learning mobility of young people? Is the development of concepts to encourage re- and in-migration or to restrain out migration reasonable and feasible with regard to the complexity of demographic processes and regional framework conditions?
  • Are gender sensitive concepts helpful to break vicious circles in the regions under consideration? Is the development of economic, educational or social strategies that take the specific needs of young men and women into account a promising tool of regional development policy?
  • Which strategies are promising to stabilise and improve the living conditions of the remaining population and to enable young people to stay in or return to their home region? How can the educational, socioeconomic or cultural situation be improved to retain and attract young people?
Key research questions:
  • Is an unbalanced sex ratio with a shortage of young women an indicator for territorial fragility and increasing regional disparities?
  • What are the characteristics of in-, out- and re-migrants and the ones who choose to stay?
What is influencing the expectations, aspirations and visions of life of young women in rural areas? Are there gender-related differences that lead to different migration patterns of young women and men?