Recently, a briefing report was published by Aberystwyth University’s Centre for Welsh politics and Society (CWPS) called ‘ARFOR, out-migration and the Welsh language: Findings from recent research on out-migration to inform the work of the ARFOR II programme’. The aim of this report is to summarise the main conclusions arising from two research workshops on the topic of out-migration that were held during November 2023. The workshops were organized CWPS and Wavehill, as part of the work program of an 18-month research tender that aims to review and evaluate the work of the ARFOR II programme.
The ARFOR Program brings together the local authorities of Gwynedd, Anglesey, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire to develop programmes that aim to promote economic development across Wales’ western counties, thereby boosting the prospects of the Welsh language. It was established in 2019, following an initial investment of £2 million by the Welsh Government. In October 2022 it was confirmed that the Welsh Government would provide a further £11 million in order to finance the second phase of ARFOR, which will run until March 2025.
The title of the first workshop was ‘ARFOR, out-migration and the Welsh language’. The aim of the event was to discuss contemporary research from Wales focusing on the topic of out-migration and to consider its relevance to the work of the ARFOR II programme. There were presentations from Dr Huw Lloyd-Williams (Wavehill), Professor Mike Woods (Aberystwyth University), Elen Bonner (Bangor University) and Dr Lowri Cunnington Wynn (Aberystwyth University). You can read Arsyllfa’s story on the first workshop here.
The title of the second workshop was ‘To stay, migrate or return? Placing the Welsh experience in a comparative context’. The aim of this event was to broaden the discussion by considering research that has studied rural out-migration in a range of other European contexts. This resulted in presentations from Dr Caitríona Ni Laoire (University College Cork), Dr Rosie Alexander (University of the West of Scotland), Professor Tialda Haartsen (University of Groningen, Netherlands) and Dr Annett Steinfuhrer (Institute for Rural Affairs Thünen, Germany). You can watch the second workshop in full on Arsyllfa here.
The report summarises key conclusions arising form the workshops and draws attention to findings that could inform the work of ARFOR’s current programmes. The report has been organized on a thematic basis and some of its main conclusions are summarized below:
- Understanding and interpreting migration trends by using life course models: There has been a tendency in academic research to use life course models to understand and interpret the migration decisions of different individuals, for example decisions to migrate away from rural areas or decisions to return at a later point. Consideration should also be given to how further use can be made of such models to support and refine policy interventions that seek to respond to out-migration. Life course models help to highlight the different stages that characterize an individual’s life (childhood, young adulthood, middle age, retirement), the different life decisions faced during these periods and how decisions about where we choose to live are likely to arise at certain key junctures.
- Attitudes of young Welsh speakers regarding life in rural Wales: Recent research, which is discussed further in the report, has suggested that first language Welsh speakers tend to be more positive than other Welsh youngsters regarding life in a rural area and that they are more likely to want to continue living in their local area, or return there if they move away. However, this research also suggests that the majority of young Welsh speakers assume that they will need to move from their local area to find employment, education or somewhere to live, with a third of them anticipating that they will move outside Wales during the next five years.
- Creating typologies summarising the attitudes of young people from Wales regarding migration: It could be useful to divide young people from Wales into different categories based on their attitudes or expectations regarding migration, and these typologies should be used in order refine policy interventions that seek to respond to out-migration. Recent research in Wales offers possible typologies that could be used to support this work. Using these typologies would help highlight the different types of groups that need to be considered (e.g. stayers, leavers, returnees), their differing motivations and priorities, and the extent to which interventions should aim to prioritise particular sub-groups.
- Factors that influence out-migration: Academic research in Wales and internationally emphasises that rural out-migration among young people is a phenomenon driven by a range of different, intersecting factors. Consequently, public discussion of out-migration as well as policy interventions that seek to address it should acknowledge that it is not sufficient to focus on only one or two key factors. More specifically, one should be careful not to treat out-migration as a phenomenon that’s solely driven by economic considerations such as jobs, career and salary.
- Factors influencing return migration: As in the case of out-migration, academic research also shows that a range of different factors can influence decisions to move back to live in a rural area. Again, this research suggests that such decisions are often driven by more than just economic considerations, and that family considerations together with the general notion of ’settling down’ can often be influential considerations. Furthermore, the research highlights that return migration is a consideration that becomes more prominent at certain periods in life, and that the early 30s should be treated as a particularly significant juncture.
- The need to give due consideration to the motivations of ‘stayers’: Understanding the motivations of young people that decide to move away or the motivations of those who decide to return tends to claim most of the attention in academic research and policy discussions. However, specific consideration should also be given to the ‘stayers’ as part of discussions regarding the future of rural societies. As part of this, care should be taken to avoid depicting ‘stayers’ as a group who have either ‘failed’ or ‘left behind’ and it should be considered to what extent current policy programs in areas such as education, skills or economic development may inadvertently encourage such impressions. It should also be recognized that the decision to stay is not one that is taken only once; rather it should be viewed as a process that may repeated under different circumstances at several points during the course of an individual’s life.