Intergenerational Relationships and Rural Return Migration

  • Christiane von Reichert
  • John B. Cromartie
  • Ryan O. Arthun
Part of the Understanding Population Trends and Processes book series (UPTA, volume 7)


Many rural communities lose population through outmigration of rural youth, resulting in a high concentration of elderly. Concern about these issues sparked our interest in researching rural return migration as a way of countering net migration loss. In the process, we found that intergenerational family dynamics and aging parents residing in the rural hometown are critical for promoting the return move of adult children and grandchildren. Intergenerational relationships and migration to be closer to family provide a context for understanding these moves. Prior research on intergenerational relationships and geographic proximity has focused on the moves of aging parents toward adult children, often using quantitative methodologies. This research focuses on the moves of adult children, using a qualitative methodology. It reveals that the return move of adult children can substitute for aging parents’ move away from a long-term rural residence to live closer to adult children and grandchildren. Migration decisions on the part of adult children thus affect elderly parents’ opportunities for aging in place. Community leaders, especially in relatively isolated, rural towns that find it difficult to attract newcomers, should become cognizant that aging parents can attract younger generations back to their rural home towns.


Rural Community Adult Child Return Migration Aging Parent Prior Generation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Funding for this research was provided by a competitive research grant of the National Research Initiative (NRI grant 2007-35401-17742) from CSREES (now NIFA) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The views expressed here, however, are those of the authors, and may not be attributed to the USDA or the Economic Research Service of the USDA. Additional thanks goes to the many individuals in 21 non-metropolitan counties nationwide who shared their insight by participating in interviews. We are grateful to the editors for their thoughtful suggestions on a previous draft of this chapter.


  1. Beale, C. L. (1975). The revival of population growth in nonmetropolitan America (ERS Report No. 605). Washington, DC: Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  2. Bengtson, V. L. (2001). Beyond the nuclear family: The increasing importance of multigenerational bonds. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(1), 1–16. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00001.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown, D. L., & Glasgow, N. (2008). Rural retirement migration. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  4. Burgess, E. W. (1960). Aging in western societies. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  5. Connidis, I. A. (2001). Family ties and aging. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  6. Cromartie, J. (2007). Rural population and migration: Trend 6—challenges from an aging population. Accessed 6 Mar 2010.
  7. Cromartie, J., & Nelson, P. B. (2009). Baby boom migration and its impact on rural America (Economic Research Report No. 79). Washington, DC: Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  8. Economic Research Service. (1999). Natural amenities scale. Accessed 10 Dec 2007.
  9. Eggebeen, D. J., & Hogan, D. P. (1990). Giving between generations in American families. Human Nature, 1(3), 211–232. doi: 10.1007/bf02733984.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Geist, C., & McManus, P. A. (2008). Geographical mobility over the life course: Motivations and implications. Population, Space and Place, 14(4), 283–303. doi: 10.1002/psp. 508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Greenwood, M. J. (1975). Research on internal migration in the United States: A survey. Journal of Economic Literature, 13(2), 397–433.Google Scholar
  12. Hendricks, J., & Hatch, L. R. (2009). Theorizing lifestyle: Exploring agency and structure in the life course. In V. L. Bengtson, D. Gans, M. Silverstein, & N. M. Putney (Eds.), Handbook of theories of aging (pp. 435–454). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  13. Hicks, J. R. (1932). The theory of wages. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  14. Hogan, D. P., Eggebeen, D. J., & Clogg, C. C. (1993). The structure of intergenerational exchanges in American families. The American Journal of Sociology, 98(6), 1428–1458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kingson, E. R. (1989). The social policy implications of intergenerational exchange. Journal of Children in a Contemporary Society, 20(3–4), 91–99. doi: 10.1300/J274v20n03_09.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Krause, N. (2009). Deriving a sense of meaning in late life: An overlooked forum for the development of interdisciplinary theory. In V. L. Bengtson, D. Gans, M. Silverstein, & N. M. Putney (Eds.), Handbook of theories of aging (pp. 101–116). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  17. Krout, J. A. (Ed.). (1994). Providing community-based services to the rural elderly. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  18. Lawton, L., Silverstein, M., & Bengtson, V. (1994). Affection, social contact, and geographic distance between adult children and their parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 56(1), 57–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Leistritz, L. F., Cordes, S., Sell, R. S., Allen, J. C., & Filkins, R. (2000). Inmigrants to the northern Great Plains: Survey results from Nebraska and North Dakota. Rural America, 15(3), 8–15.Google Scholar
  20. Litwak, E., & Longino, C. F. (1987). Migration patterns among the elderly: A developmental perspective. The Gerontologist, 27(3), 266–272. doi: 10.1093/geront/27.3.266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lowry, I. S. (1966). Migration and metropolitan growth: Two analytical models. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Mangen, D. J., Bengtson, V. L., & Landry, P. H., Jr. (Eds.). (1988). Measurement of intergenerational relations. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. McGranahan, D. A. (1999). Natural amenities drive rural population change (Agricultural Economic Report No. 781). Washington, DC: Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  24. McGranahan, D. A., & Beale, C. L. (2002). Understanding rural population loss. Rural America, 17(4), 2–11.Google Scholar
  25. McHugh, K. E., & Mings, R. C. (1996). The circle of migration: Attachment to place in aging. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 86(3), 530–550. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1996.tb01765.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Merz, E.-M., Consedine, N. S., Schulze, H.-J., & Schuengel, C. (2009). Wellbeing of adult children and ageing parents: Associations with intergenerational support and relationship quality. Ageing & Society, 29(5), 783–802. doi: doi:10.1017/S0144686X09008514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Michielin, F., Mulder, C. H., & Zorlu, A. (2008). Distance to parents and geographical mobility. Population, Space and Place, 14(4), 327–345. doi: 10.1002/psp. 509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nelson, P. B. (1999). Quality of life, nontraditional income, and economic growth: New development opportunities for the rural west. Rural Development Perspectives, 14(2), 32–37.Google Scholar
  29. Pettersson, A., & Malmberg, G. (2009). Adult children and elderly parents as mobility attractions in Sweden. Population, Space and Place, 15(4), 343–357. doi: 10.1002/psp. 558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Plane, D. A., & Jurjevich, J. R. (2009). Ties that no longer bind? The patterns and repercussions of age-articulated migration. The Professional Geographer, 61(1), 4–20. doi: 10.1080/00330120802577558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Prosper, V., & Clark, S. (1994). Housing America’s rural elderly. In J. A. Krout (Ed.), Providing community-based services to the rural elderly (pp. 133–155). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  32. Rangel, A. (2003). Forward and backward intergenerational goods: Why is social security good for the environment? The American Economic Review, 93(3), 813–834. doi: 10.1257/000282803322157106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rogerson, P. A., Weng, R. H., & Lin, G. (1993). The spatial separation of parents and their adult children. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 83(4), 656–671. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1993.tb01959.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rogerson, P. A., Burr, J. A., & Lin, G. (1997). Changes in geographic proximity between parents and their adult children. International Journal of Population Geography, 3(2), 121–136. doi:10.1002/(sici)1099-1220(199706)3:2<121::aid-ijpg60>;2-i.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rossi, P. H. (1955). Why families move: A study in the social psychology of urban residential mobility. Glencoe: Free Press.Google Scholar
  36. Rossi, A. S., & Rossi, P. H. (1990). Of human bonding: Parent-child relations across the life course. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  37. Rudzitis, G. (1999). Amenities increasingly draw people to the rural west. Rural Development Perspectives, 14(2), 9–13.Google Scholar
  38. Shumway, J. M., & Otterstrom, S. M. (2001). Spatial patterns of migration and income change in the Mountain West: The dominance of service-based, amenity-rich counties. The Professional Geographer, 53(4), 492–502. doi: 10.1111/0033-0124.00299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sjaastad, L. A. (1962). The costs and returns of human migration. Journal of Political Economy, 70(5), 80–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. US Census Bureau. (1952). 1950 census of population and housing: General characteristics. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  41. US Census Bureau. (2002). Statistical abstract of the United States. Accessed 7 Mar 2010.
  42. US Census Bureau. (2008). National population projections. Table 2. Projections of the population by selected age groups and sex for the United States: 2010 to 2050 (NP2008-T2). Accessed 7 Mar 2010.
  43. US Census Bureau. (2009a). 2006-2008 American community survey 3-year estimates. Table S0101. Age and sex (by Geographic Component). Accessed 5 July 2010.
  44. US Census Bureau. (2009b). Current population survey. Geographical mobility: 2007 to 2008. Table 23. Reasons for move. Accessed 20 Mar 2010.
  45. US Census Bureau. (2009c). Migration expectancy—Using American community survey estimates. Accessed 5 July 2010.
  46. von Reichert, C. (2002). Returning and new Montana migrants: Socio-economic and motivational differences. Growth and Change, 33(1), 133–151. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2478.2001.00283.x.Google Scholar
  47. von Reichert, C. (2008, October 8–11). Geographic isolation, natural amenities, and migration. Paper presented at the meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society Missoula, Montana.Google Scholar
  48. von Reichert, C., & Rudzitis, G. (1992). Multinomial logistic models explaining income changes of migrants to high-amenity counties. The Review of Regional Studies, 22(1), 25–42.Google Scholar
  49. Wenger, G. C., & Keating, N. (2008). The evolution of networks of rural older adults. In N. Keating (Ed.), Rural ageing: A good place to grow old? (pp. 33–42). Bristol: The Policy Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christiane von Reichert
    • 1
  • John B. Cromartie
    • 2
  • Ryan O. Arthun
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  2. 2.Economic Research Service, US Department of AgricultureWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations