The Impact of Internal Migration on the Spatial Distribution of Population in Germany over the Period 1991-2017


  • Nico Stawarz Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB)
  • Nikola Sander Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB)



Internal migration, Population redistribution, Population density, Germany, Sub-urbanisation, Urbanisation


In 1885 and 1889 Ravenstein published two seminal papers on the role of migration in changing population distribution. This article analyses the importance of internal migration for shaping the spatial population distribution of Germany in the last three decades. We use a time-series dataset of annual inter-county migration flows from the German population register for the years 1991 to 2017. Population density is used as proxy measure for settlement type as an alternative to the commonly used BBSR typology. Our findings show that around 3 percent of the population moves between counties each year, and that the efficacy of internal migration in redistributing population has declined since the 1990s. Our results are in line with other recent work stating that the re-urbanisation phase, which was prevalent during the 2000s, has ended and sub-urbanisation patterns have become more prominent since 2011. We show that internal migration indeed plays an important role in shaping the distribution of population, especially the movements of young adults and families along the rural-urban continuum. In the 1990s and 2000s, internal migration tended to be more important for shaping regional populations than international migration and natural population change. Notably, this ranking reversed in the last few years and natural population change even became positive for densely settled regions.

* This article belongs to a special issue on “Internal Migration as a Driver of Regional Population Change in Europe: Updating Ravenstein”.




How to Cite

Stawarz, N. and Sander, N. 2020. The Impact of Internal Migration on the Spatial Distribution of Population in Germany over the Period 1991-2017. Comparative Population Studies. 44, (Mar. 2020). DOI:



Research Articles