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Home or away: what makes 'stayers' stay?

02 November 2021
Jonne Thomassen

PhD student Jonne Thomassen has moved to a different town or city several times, as have many of her peers. Yet some people stay close to family or friends all their lives. Thomassen is researching why some people do not move away. Family ties are clearly an important motive for staying and, in some cases, can even serve as a deterrent to moving away.

By: Jonne Thomassen / Photos: Henk Veenstra

Young people migrate relatively often

Young people migrate relatively often. There are certain key life events that tend to necessitate a relocation, many of which occur in early adulthood: leaving school, embarking on higher education, finding a job, buying a first home, starting a family, and so on. Young people tend to move long distances too, usually to gain better access to the big cities and specialist labour markets. Highly educated young people in particular find that such moves significantly enhance their career opportunities.

Staying close to home

Whilst many young people are indeed extremely mobile, not all are. It feels normal to me that I have moved seven times in the last 10 years. Many of my friends have done the same. But why is it that I now live almost 300 kilometres away from my parents, whereas my brother still lives within walking distance of them? Could I have made a career for myself closer to home? And what would my life have been like if I had?

Doctoral research on ‘stayers’

These questions got me thinking. I want to gain a better understanding of what makes some young people decide not to move away. This group is poorly represented in academic literature, so I interviewed a number of these ‘stayers’ myself for my Master’s thesis. Most of them cited more than one reason for wanting to stay close to home, yet almost all of them cited a strong sense of connection with the place where they lived. This often had to do with the presence of a social network and the proximity of family and friends. The precise dynamics merit closer examination. Now, as a PhD student, I will therefore endeavour to gain a better understanding of the role played by family and friends in the choice to stay.

Moving house: why we do it – and why we don't.
Moving house: why we do it – and why we don't.

Proximity of family influences migration behaviour

What do we already know about how the role of family and friends affects a person’s decision to move house? Family and friends are an important part of our social network. Previous research has shown that people who live close to their social network move house less often. The FamilyTies project – of which my doctoral research is a part – has since gathered a multitude of evidence confirming that people who live close to family indeed tend to move house less often – and over smaller distances – than people who live further away from family. It is also not uncommon for people to move back to a place where they have lived previously. This happens even more often if they have family living there. But how is the choice to stay influenced by family and friends? And how is that influence perceived?

Family and friends as a motive to stay

I decided to take a closer look at the interviews I had held with the ‘stayers’ to check exactly what they had said about their family and friends in relation to their decision to stay. As expected, for many participants, the proximity of family and friends did indeed constitute a strong motivation to stay. One person even said that she found their proximity a little restrictive, in that she felt it meant that she ‘couldn’t move even further away’. However, proximity is not a significant factor for everyone: a number of ‘stayers’ indicated that they would not see living further away as a problem because ‘it’s easy enough to visit your family and friends at the weekend’.

Influencing the decision

It became clear from the interviews that in some cases, as well as being a personal motive for a person to stay, family and friends can themselves influence the decision to stay, sometimes in extremely subtle ways. For example, a number of ‘stayers’ had considered the impact that their decision would have on their loved ones. Some of them had asked for their family’s opinion and then taken the response very seriously. Other ‘stayers’ indicated that they had taken into consideration the examples set by the people around them. If they had peers who stayed in the same place and now had a good job and were happy, they felt more confident about their own future.

Thomassen: As well as being a personal motive for a person to stay, family and friends can themselves influence the decision to stay, sometimes in extremely subtle ways.
Thomassen: As well as being a personal motive for a person to stay, family and friends can themselves influence the decision to stay, sometimes in extremely subtle ways.

Indispensible support

The interviews revealed that family and friends are also a source of unconditional support. For example, young families can call upon their parents to babysit. One ‘stayer’ described this kind of support as ‘indispensable’. In uncertain situations, such as unemployment, family and friends function as a network in the local labour market or can help in the search for suitable vacancies. In one case, the young person’s social network had provided temporary accommodation until they had found a new home. This support clearly made the decision to stay easier for some of those interviewed. Others, however, having seen a significant percentage of their social network move elsewhere in the country, were starting to consider moving away themselves.

Family can also be a deterrent

A new and helpful source of information recently became available. Through questionnaires, respondents were asked which factors would deter them from moving away, either now or in the future. The interim results of this large-scale project confirm what my interviews indicated; namely, that when a person is considering moving away, they can experience the wish to stay close to family and friends as a deterrent.


Slowly but surely, I am discovering more about the role played by family and friends in the decision to stay. In the last phase of my doctoral research, I will investigate the differences between young people who move away and those who stay living in the proximity of their family. Is it true that ‘stayers’ find themselves with more limited opportunities in the labour market, or are they able to use their extensive social network to their advantage? And at the end of this process, I may be better able to imagine how my life would have turned out if I had stayed living close to my parents.

This article has been published in cooperation with MindMint.

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Last modified:02 November 2021 1.56 p.m.
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