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Ethnic and Economic Determinants of Migrant Location Choice

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New Frontiers in Interregional Migration Research

Part of the book series: Advances in Spatial Science ((ADVSPATIAL))


This chapter addresses the determinants of migrant location choice within the migrant’s adopted country. We focus on two sets of location determinants: economic determinants and ethnic (country of origin) determinants. Ethnic determinants are found to be important across a wide range of studies. By contrast, prior literature indicates that impacts of economic factors differ according to the characteristics both of locations and of migrants. The first part of the chapter summarises key findings of prior studies into migrant location choice, focusing on economic and ethnic determinants. Much of the literature in this field relates to migrants to the United States of America. The second part of the chapter extends knowledge of migrant location choice by considering another country that hosts a high proportion of international migrants, New Zealand. We draw on unit record New Zealand census data from 2013 for this analysis. The importance of ethnic (country of origin) networks is confirmed in this analysis but so too is the importance of economic factors. The latter finding is in contrast to much of the US based literature. It plausibly reflects the greater emphasis that New Zealand places on skills-based migration relative to the United States. At a technical level, this study uses the average regional wage of the industry in which the migrant is employed, together with region fixed effects, which may contribute to more precise estimates of wage effects than does the more standard use of average regional wages.

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  1. 1.

    This part highlights key findings rather than covering all relevant papers in the field.

  2. 2.

    Maré et al. 2012, 2016 focus on residential location decisions within a single city, Auckland, rather than across the country. These studies find that both self-identified ethnicity and country of birth are correlated with location choice within the city.

  3. 3.

    Note that LQ ij can be expressed equivalently as: \( \frac{Pop_{ij}/{Pop}_j}{Pop_i/ Pop} \).

  4. 4.

    The 2006 data are sourced from the Statistics New Zealand Infoshare database. LEED industry wages were aggregated for the small contiguous Marlborough, Nelson, Tasman and West Coast regions; Latin American and Other birth regions have been grouped since Latin America was not separately available.

  5. 5.

    An odds ratio greater than (less than) unity denotes a positive (negative) impact of that variable on location choice; statistical significance (relative to unity) at p < 0.05 is indicated through a coefficient shown in bold.

  6. 6.

    These fixed effects are estimated but are not reported explicitly in Table 9.4.

  7. 7.

    One other explanation for this result is a simple arithmetic one in that a migrant will inflate the proportion of own-group migrants in their own area. This explanation may be particularly relevant for the estimates using 2013 explanatory variable data. The finding that the size of the interaction term is almost equivalent across columns (3) and (6) suggests that this is not the (sole) reason for the significant positive result.

  8. 8.

    One region (Northland) is omitted as the base region. We do not present all 225 coefficients (15 regions × 15 terms per region), instead summarising the key results in the text.


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An earlier version of this chapter was submitted as a dissertation for the degree of BCom(Hons) at University of Auckland by the first author. We thank an anonymous referee for comments on an earlier version of this chapter. Access to the data used in this study was provided by Statistics New Zealand under conditions designed to keep individual information secure in accordance with requirements of the Statistics Act 1975. The opinions presented are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent an official view of Statistics New Zealand, or of the authors’ institutions.

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Correspondence to Arthur Grimes .

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Smart, C., Grimes, A., Townsend, W. (2018). Ethnic and Economic Determinants of Migrant Location Choice. In: Biagi, B., Faggian, A., Rajbhandari, I., Venhorst, V. (eds) New Frontiers in Interregional Migration Research. Advances in Spatial Science. Springer, Cham.

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